An understanding of the solid-phase thermodynamics and aqueous speciation of aluminum is critical to our ability to understand and predict processes in a wide variety of geologic and industrial settings. Boehmite (AlO(OH)) is an important phase in the system Al2O3-H2O that has been the subject of a number of structural and thermodynamic studies since its initial synthesis  and discovery in nature . Unfortunately, it has long been recognized that thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) of both synthetic and natural boehmite samples (that appear well crystallized by powder XRD methods) yields significant excess water - typically losing 16-16.5 wt. % on heating as compared with a nominal expected weight loss of 15.0 wt. % [3,4]. The boehmite used in our experiments was synthesized hydrothermally from acid-washed gibbsite (Al(OH)3) at 200°C. Powder XRD and SEM examination showed no evidence of the presence a contaminant phase. The TGA patterns do not suggest that this is due to adsorbed water, so a structural source is likely. We therefore undertook to examine this material by TEM to clarify this phenomenon.
Boehmite is orthorhombic (a = 0.0285nm, b = 0.1224nm and c = 0.0365nm, Amam). The crystals were tabular with major surfaces normal to <010>. Simple powder dispersals onto holey carbon films typically resulted in b-axis orientations parallel to the electron beam. To view other orientations, specimens were mulled in M-Bond epoxy, pressed between plates of single-crystal Si (aligning the boehmite tablets parallel to the Si plates) while the epoxy cured. Electron transparent thin foils normal to the silicon plates were produced by argon ion milling techniques. Sample stability in the electron beam was dramatically improved by cooling to −140°C using an 2 cold stage.