Unusually stable ~100-fold reversible and instantaneous swelling of inorganic layered materials

Nat Commun. 2013;4:1632. doi: 10.1038/ncomms2641.


Cells can swell or shrink in certain solutions; however, no equivalent activity has been observed in inorganic materials. Although lamellar materials exhibit increased volume with increase in the lamellar period, the interlamellar expansion is usually limited to a few nanometres, with a simultaneous partial or complete exfoliation into individual atomic layers. Here we demonstrate a large monolithic crystalline swelling of layered materials. The gallery spacing can be instantly increased ~100-fold in one direction to ~90 nm, with the neighbouring layers separated primarily by H2O. The layers remain strongly held without peeling or translational shifts, maintaining a nearly perfect three-dimensional lattice structure of >3,000 layers. First-principle calculations yield a long-range directional structuring of the H2O molecules that may help to stabilize the highly swollen structure. The crystals can also instantaneously shrink back to their original sizes. These findings provide a benchmark for understanding the exfoliating layered materials.