Use of atomic force microscopy (AFM) for microfabric study of cohesive soils

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Microfabric reflects the imprints of the geologic and stress history of the soil deposit, the depositional environment and weathering history. Many investigators have been concerned with the fundamental problem of how the engineering properties of clay depend on the microfabric, which can be defined as geometric arrangement of particles within the soil mass. It is believed that scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) are the only techniques that can reveal particle arrangements of clayey soils directly; however, current research introduces a novel and more advanced technique, atomic force microscopy, to evaluate the microfabric of cohesive materials. The atomic force microscopy has several advantages over SEM/TEM for characterizing cohesive particles at the sub-micrometre range by providing 3D images and 2D images with Z-information used in quantitative measurements of soil microfabric using SPIP software, and having the capability of obtaining images in all environments (ambient air, liquids and vacuums). This paper focuses on the use of atomic force microscopy technique to quantify the microfabric of clayey soils by developing the criteria for average and maximum values of angle of particle orientation within the soil mass using proposed empirical equations for intermediate and extreme microfabrics (dispersed, flocculated).

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