Polymer nanocomposites with layered silicates as the inorganic phase (reinforcement) are discussed. The materials design and synthesis rely on the ability of layered silicates to intercalate in the galleries between their layers a wide range of monomers and polymers. Special emphasis is placed on a new, versatile and environmentally benign synthesis approach by polymer melt intercalation. In contrast to in-situ polymerization and solution intercalation, melt intercalation involves mixing the layered silicate with the polymer and heating the mixture above the softening point of the polymer. Compatibility with various polymers is accomplished by derivatizing the silicates with alkyl ammonium cations via an ion exchange reaction. By fine-tuning the surface characteristics nanodispersion (i. e. intercalation or delamination) can be accomplished. The resulting polymer layered silicate (PLS) nanocomposites exhibit properties dramatically different from their more conventional counterparts. For example, PLS nanocomposites can attain a particular degree of stiffness, strength and barrier properties with far less inorganic content than comparable glass- or mineral reinforced polymers and, therefore, they are far lighter in weight. In addition, PLS nanocomposites exhibit significant increase in thermal stability as well as self-extinguishing characteristics. The combination of improved properties, convenient processing and low cost has already led to a few commercial applications with more currently under development.