Sunday, October 24, 2021

What is a Crystal?

Crystal is a solid material whose constituents (such as atoms, molecules, or ions) are arranged in a highly ordered microscopic structure, forming a crystal lattice that extends in all directions.

In addition, macroscopic single crystals are usually identifiable by their geometrical shape, consisting of flat faces with specific, characteristic orientations.

Examples of large crystals include snowflakes, diamonds, and table salt. Most inorganic solids are not crystals but polycrystals, i.e. many microscopic crystals fused together into a single solid. Examples of polycrystals include most metals, rocks, ceramics, and ice.

A third category of solids is amorphous solids, where the atoms have no periodic structure whatsoever. Examples of amorphous solids include glass, wax, and many plastics.

Not all solids are crystals. For example, when liquid water starts freezing, the phase change begins with small ice crystals that grow until they fuse, forming a polycrystalline structure. In the final block of ice, each of the small crystals is a true crystal with a periodic arrangement of atoms, but the whole polycrystal does not have a periodic arrangement of atoms, because the periodic pattern is broken at the grain boundaries.

A crystal structure (an arrangement of atoms in a crystal) is characterized by its unit cell, a small imaginary box containing one or more atoms in a specific spatial arrangement. The unit cells are stacked in three-dimensional space to form the crystal.

The symmetry of a crystal is constrained by the requirement that the unit cells stack perfectly with no gaps. There are 219 possible crystal symmetries, called crystallographic space groups.

These are grouped into 7 crystal systems, such as cubic crystal system (where the crystals may form cubes or rectangular boxes, such as halite) or hexagonal crystal system (where the crystals may form hexagons, such as ordinary water ice).


The same group of atoms can often solidify in many different ways. Polymorphism is the ability of a solid to exist in more than one crystal form. For example, water ice is ordinarily found in the hexagonal form, but can also exist as the cubic, the rhombohedral form, and many other forms.

In general, solids can be held together by various types of chemical bonds, such as metallic bonds, ionic bonds, covalent bonds, van der Waals bonds, and others. None of these are necessarily crystalline or non-crystalline. However, there are some general trends as follows.

Metals are almost always polycrystalline, though there are exceptions like amorphous metal and single-crystal metals. The latter are grown synthetically.

There are also so called Quasicrystals which consists of arrays of atoms that are ordered but not strictly periodic. They have many attributes in common with ordinary crystals, such as displaying a discrete pattern in x-ray diffraction, and the ability to form shapes with smooth, flat faces.

Quasicrystals are most famous for their ability to show five-fold symmetry, which is impossible for an ordinary periodic crystal.

No comments:

Post a Comment