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Six samples of 'Vermiculite' have been studied to investigate the mechanism of its well known but poorly understood property to exfoliate. The samples were analysed quantitatively by XRD to determine their precise mineralogical composition. Electron microprobe methods, including elemental
mapping of native potassium and of caesium (introduced by cation exchange) were used to examine variation in the chemical composition of the particles. Most of the samples examined show heterogeneous mineralogical compositions which occur as distinct zones within the volume of individual particles,
presenting a mosaic texture. Exfoliation is related to this mosaic distribution of the different mineral phases within the particles. Lateral phase boundaries between vermiculite and mica layers, or vermiculite and chlorite layers are postulated to prevent or impede the escape of gas from
a particle, resulting in exfoliation when the pressure exceeds the interlayer bonding forces that hold the layers together. This mechanism provides a common explanation for the exfoliation of 'Vermiculite' by thermal methods or by treatment with H2O2. Paradoxically, one
sample which consists of pure vermiculite, in the mineralogical sense of the term, demonstrates that pure vermiculite does not and should not exhibit the property of exfoliation. Our explanation of the mechanism of exfoliation explains the commonly observed particle size dependence of exfoliation
and the tendency for obviously poly-phase 'Vermiculite' samples to show the largest coefficients of expansion.