A crystal or crystalline solid is a solid material, whose constituent atoms, molecules, or ions are arranged in an orderly repeating pattern extending in all three spatial dimensions.
The scientific study of crystals and crystal formation is crystallography. The process of crystal formation via mechanisms of crystal growth is called crystallization or solidification. The word crystal is derived from the ancient Greek word (krustallos), which had the same meaning, but according to the ancient understanding of crystal. At root it means anything congealed by freezing, such as ice. The word once referred particularly to quartz, or "rock crystal".
Most metals encountered in everyday life are polycrystals. Crystals are often symmetrically intergrown to form crystal twins.
The process of forming a crystalline structure from a fluid or from materials dissolved in the fluid is often referred to as crystallization. In the old example referenced by the root meaning of the word crystal, water being cooled undergoes a phase change from liquid to solid beginning with small ice crystals that grow until they fuse, forming a polycrystalline structure. The physical properties of the ice depend on the size and arrangement of the individual crystals, or grains, and the same may be said of metals solidifying from a molten state.
Which crystal structure the fluid will form depends on the chemistry of the fluid, the conditions under which it is being solidified, and also on the ambient pressure. While the cooling process usually results in the generation of a crystalline material, under certain conditions, the fluid may be frozen in a noncrystalline state. In most cases, this involves cooling the fluid so rapidly that atoms cannot travel to their lattice sites before they lose mobility. A noncrystalline material, which has no long-range order, is called an amorphous, vitreous, or glassy material. It is also often referred to as an amorphous solid, although there are distinct differences between crystalline solids and amorphous solids: most notably, the process of forming a glass does not release the latent intense warmth of fusion.
Crystalline structures occur in all classes of materials, with all types of chemical bonds. Almost all metal exists in a polycrystalline state; amorphous or single-crystal metals must be produced synthetically, often with great difficulty. Ionically bonded crystals can form upon solidification of salts, either from a molten fluid or upon crystallization from a solution. Covalently bonded crystals are also very common, notable examples being diamond, silica, and graphite. Polymer materials generally will form crystalline regions, but the lengths of the molecules usually prevent complete crystallization. Weak van der Waals forces can also play a role in a crystal structure; for example, this type of bonding loosely holds together the hexagonal-patterned sheets in graphite.
Most crystalline materials have a variety of crystallographic defects. The types and structures of these defects can contain a profound effect on the properties of the materials.
- 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 Ice Ih, but can also exist as the cubic Ice Ic, the rhombohedral ice II, and many other forms.
- Amorphous phases are also possible with the same molecule, such as amorphous ice. In this case, the phenomenon is known as polyamorphism.
- For pure chemical elements, polymorphism is known as allotropy. For example, diamond, graphite, and fullerenes are different allotropes of carbon.
Since the initial discovery of crystal-like individual arrays of atoms that are not regularly repeated, made in 1982 by Dan Shechtman, the acceptance of the concept and the word quasicrystal have led the International Union of Crystallography to redefine the term crystal to mean "any solid having an essentially discrete diffraction diagram", thereby shifting the essential attribute of crystallinity from position space to Fourier space. Within the family of crystals one distinguishes between traditional crystals, which are periodic, or repeating, at the atomic scale, and aperiodic (incommensurate) crystals which are not. This broader definition adopted in 1996 reflects the current understanding that microscopic periodicity is a sufficient but not a necessary condition for crystals.
While the term "crystal" has a precise meaning within materials science and solid-state physics, colloquially "crystal" refers to solid objects that exhibit well-defined and often pleasing geometric shapes. In this sense of the word, many types of crystals are found in nature. The shape of these crystals is dependent on the types of molecular bonds between the atoms to determine the structure, as well as on the conditions under which they formed. Snowflakes, diamonds, and table salt are common examples of crystals.
Some crystalline materials may exhibit special electrical properties such as the ferroelectric effect or the piezoelectric effect. Additionally, light passing through a crystal is often refracted or bent in different directions, producing an array of colors; crystal optics is the study of these effects. In periodic dielectric structures a range of unique optical properties can be expected as seen in photonic crystals.
Crystalline rocks: Inorganic matter, if free to take that physical state in which it is most stable, tends to crystallize. There is no practical limit to the size a crystal may attain under the right conditions, and selenite single crystals in excess of 10 m are found in the Cave of the Crystals in Naica, Mexico.
Crystalline rock masses have consolidated from aqueous solution or from molten magma. The vast majority of igneous rocks belong to this group and the degree of crystallization depends primarily on the conditions under which they solidified. Such rocks as granite, which have cooled very slowly and under great pressures, have completely crystallized, but many lavas were poured out at the surface and cooled very rapidly; in this latter group a small amount of amorphous or glassy matter is frequent. Other crystalline rocks, the evaporites such as rock salt, gypsum and some limestones have been deposited from aqueous solution, mostly owing to evaporation in arid climates. Still another group, the metamorphic rocks which includes the marbles, mica-schists and quartzites; are recrystallized, that is to say, they were at first fragmental rocks, like limestone, shale and sandstone and have never been in a molten condition nor entirely in solution. The high temperature and pressure conditions of metamorphism have acted on them erasing their original structures, and inducing recrystallization in the solid state.
Crystal growth occurs from the addition of new atoms, ions, or polymer strings into the characteristic arrangement, or lattice, of a crystal.
This happens in two stages: nucleation and growth. In the first stage, a small nucleus containing the newly forming crystal is created. Nucleation occurs relatively slowly as the initial crystal components must "bump" into each other in the correct orientation and placement for them to adhere and form the crystal. After crystal nucleation, the second stage, growth, rapidly ensues. Crystal growth spreads outwards from the nucleating site. In this faster process, the elements which form the motif add to the growing crystal in a prearranged system, the crystal lattice, started in crystal nucleation.
Nucleation can be either homogeneous, without the influence of foreign particles, or heterogeneous, with the influence of foreign particles. Generally, heterogeneous nucleation takes place more quickly since the foreign particles act as a scaffold for the crystal to grow on.
Heterogeneous nucleation can take place by several methods. Some of the most typical are small inclusions, or cuts, in the container the crystal is being grown on. This includes scratches on the sides and bottom of glassware. Other nucleating sites can be the dust, dandruff, and random other particles which are found in air. A common practice in crystal growing is to add a foreign substance, such as a string or a rock, to the solution, thereby providing a nucleating site for the project and speeding up the time it will take to grow a crystal.
The number of nucleating sites can also be controlled in this manner. If a brand-new piece of glassware or a plastic container is used, crystals may not form because the container surface is too smooth to allow heterogeneous nucleation. On the other hand, a badly scratched container will result in many lines of small crystals. To achieve a moderate number of medium sized crystals, a container which has a few scratches works best. Likewise, adding small previously made crystals, or seed crystals, to a crystal growing project will provide a nucleating sites to the solution. The addition of only one seed crystal should result in a larger single crystal.
Some important features during growth are the arrangement, the origin of growth, the interface form (important for the driving force) and the final size. When origin of growth is only in one direction for all the crystals, this can have as result that the material becomes very anisotropic (different properties in different directions). The interface form determines the additional free energy for each volume of crystal growth.
Lattice arrangement in metals often takes the structure of body centered cubic, face centered cubic, or hexagonal close packed. The final size of the crystal is important for mechanical properties of materials (in metals it is widely acknowledged that large crystals can stretch further due to the longer deformation path and thus lower internal stresses).
Topics of Interest
In crystallography, atomic packing factor (APF) or packing fraction is the fraction of volume in a crystal structure that is occupied by atoms. It is dimensionless and always less than unity.
A colloidal crystal is an ordered array of particles, analogous to a standard crystal whose repeating subunits are atoms or molecules. A natural example of this phenomenon can be found in the gem opal, where spheres of silica assume a close-packed locally periodic structure under moderate compression. Bulk properties of a colloidal crystal depend on composition, particle size, packing arrangement, and degree of regularity. Applications include photonics, materials processing, and the study of self-assembly and phase transitions.
A crystal oscillator is an electronic circuit that uses the mechanical resonance of a vibrating crystal of piezoelectric material to create an electrical signal with a very precise frequency. This frequency is commonly used to keep track of time (as in quartz wristwatches), to provide a stable clock signal for digital integrated circuits, and to stabilize frequencies for radio transmitters and receivers. The most common type of piezoelectric resonator used is the quartz crystal, so oscillator circuits designed around them were called "crystal oscillators".
Liquid crystals (LCs) are a state of matter that has properties between those of a conventional liquid and those of a solid crystal. For instance, an LC may flow like a liquid, but its molecules may be oriented in a crystal-like way. There are many different types of LC phases, which can be distinguished by their different optical properties (such as birefringence). When viewed under a microscope using a polarized light source, different liquid crystal phases will appear to have distinct textures. The contrasting areas in the textures correspond to domains where the LC molecules are oriented in different directions. Within a domain, however, the molecules are well ordered. LC materials may not always be in an LC phase (just as water may turn into ice or steam).
A liquid crystal display (LCD) is a thin, flat panel used for electronically displaying information such as text, images, and moving pictures. Its uses include monitors for computers, televisions, instrument panels, and other devices ranging from aircraft cockpit displays, to every-day consumer devices such as video players, gaming devices, clocks, watches, calculators, and telephones. Among its major features are its lightweight construction, its portability, and its ability to be produced in much larger screen sizes than are practical for the construction of cathode ray tube (CRT) display technology. Its low electrical power consumption enables it to be used in battery-powered electronic equipment. It is an electronically-modulated optical device made up of any number of pixels filled with liquid crystals and arrayed in front of a light source (backlight) or reflector to produce images in color or monochrome. The earliest discovery leading to the development of LCD technology, the discovery of liquid crystals, dates from 1888. By 2008, worldwide sales of televisions with LCD screens had surpassed the sale of CRT units.
Quasicrystals are structural forms that are both ordered and nonperiodic. They form patterns that fill all the space but lack translational symmetry. Classical theory of crystals allows only 2, 3, 4, and 6-fold rotational symmetries, but quasicrystals display symmetry of other orders (folds). They can be said to be in a state intermediate between crystal and glass. Just like crystals, quasicrystals produce modified Bragg diffraction, but where crystals have a simple repeating structure, quasicrystals are more complex.
A crystal radio receiver, also called a crystal set, is a very simple radio receiver, popular in the early days of radio. It needs no battery or power source and runs on the power received from radio waves by a long wire antenna. It gets its name from its most important component, known as a crystal detector, originally made with a piece of crystalline mineral such as galena. This component is now called a diode.
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