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Cat litter to become an edible product?
Date:7/12/2011

atoms acrosshas been the main obstacle to their being studied with single-crystal diffraction techniques. For this experiment, the scientists collected samples of sepiolite fibres from twenty different deposits around the world. These fibres, each made of many crystals, were first imaged with electron-microscopy and then studied using X-ray powder diffraction.

However, the most accurate technique to resolve the three-dimensional structure of a crystal is single-crystal diffraction with either X-rays or electrons as probe. "To study very small crystals, the ESRF uses an X-ray beam with just 2 by 5 micrometres cross section. In the end, we collected X-ray diffraction data for two fibres", says Manuel Sanchez del Rio from the ESRF, "but the data were not easy to interpret, and needed extensive computer simulations to confirm and refine the information gathered by electron diffraction experiments done in parallel at the University Complutense of Madrid".

The wide variety of sepiolites studied is now enabling the team to correlate between the physical and chemical properties of a given type with its atomic structure. "Today, no synthetic clay surpasses natural sepiolite. This is about to change as our understanding of their atomic structure will guide the synthesis of sepiolites from other, more abundant clay minerals and the design of completely new materials for use in catalysis and batteries", says Mercedes Surez from the University of Salamanca.

"The future of sepiolites in the household is outside the litterbox. Already today, they absorb liquid spillages and odours and stabilise aqueous products like paints, resins and inks. In synthetic form, they could bind food products and stabilise drugs, extending their shelf life and making sepiolite an edible product", concludes Manuel Sanchez del Rio.


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Contact: Claus Habfast
claus.habfast@esrf.fr
33-476-882-128
European Synchrotron Radiation Facility
Source:Eurekalert  

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