Crystal structure

The (3-D) crystal structure of H2O ice Ih (c) consists of bases of H2O ice molecules (b) located on lattice points within the (2-D) hexagonal space lattice (a). The values for the H–O–H angle and O–H distance have come from Physics of Ice[1] with uncertainties of ±1.5° and ±0.005 Å, respectively. The white box in (c) is the unit cell defined by Bernal and Fowler[2]

In crystallography, crystal structure is a description of the ordered arrangement of atoms, ions or molecules in a crystalline material.[3] Ordered structures occur from the intrinsic nature of the constituent particles to form symmetric patterns that repeat along the principal directions of three-dimensional space in matter.

The smallest group of particles in the material that constitutes the repeating pattern is the unit cell of the structure. The unit cell completely defines the symmetry and structure of the entire crystal lattice, which is built up by repetitive translation of the unit cell along its principal axes. The repeating patterns are said to be located at the points of the Bravais lattice.

The lengths of the principal axes, or edges, of the unit cell and the angles between them are the lattice constants, also called lattice parameters. The symmetry properties of the crystal are described by the concept of space groups.[3] All possible symmetric arrangements of particles in three-dimensional space may be described by the 230 space groups.

The crystal structure and symmetry play a critical role in determining many physical properties, such as cleavage, electronic band structure, and optical transparency.

Unit cell

Crystal structure is described in terms of the geometry of arrangement of particles in the unit cell. The unit cell is defined as the smallest repeating unit having the full symmetry of the crystal structure.[4] The geometry of the unit cell is defined as a parallelepiped, providing six lattice parameters taken as the lengths of the cell edges (a, b, c) and the angles between them (α, β, γ). The positions of particles inside the unit cell are described by the fractional coordinates (xi, yi, zi) along the cell edges, measured from a reference point. It is only necessary to report the coordinates of a smallest asymmetric subset of particles. This group of particles may be chosen so that it occupies the smallest physical space, which means that not all particles need to be physically located inside the boundaries given by the lattice parameters. All other particles of the unit cell are generated by the symmetry operations that characterize the symmetry of the unit cell. The collection of symmetry operations of the unit cell is expressed formally as the space group of the crystal structure.[5]

Miller indices

Planes with different Miller indices in cubic crystals

Vectors and planes in a crystal lattice are described by the three-value Miller index notation. This syntax uses the indices , m, and n as directional orthogonal parameters, which are separated by 90°.[6]

By definition, the syntax (ℓmn) denotes a plane that intercepts the three points a1/, a2/m, and a3/n, or some multiple thereof. That is, the Miller indices are proportional to the inverses of the intercepts of the plane with the unit cell (in the basis of the lattice vectors). If one or more of the indices is zero, it means that the planes do not intersect that axis (i.e., the intercept is "at infinity"). A plane containing a coordinate axis is translated so that it no longer contains that axis before its Miller indices are determined. The Miller indices for a plane are integers with no common factors. Negative indices are indicated with horizontal bars, as in (123). In an orthogonal coordinate system for a cubic cell, the Miller indices of a plane are the Cartesian components of a vector normal to the plane.

Considering only (ℓmn) planes intersecting one or more lattice points (the lattice planes), the distance d between adjacent lattice planes is related to the (shortest) reciprocal lattice vector orthogonal to the planes by the formula

Planes and directions

The crystallographic directions are geometric lines linking nodes (atoms, ions or molecules) of a crystal. Likewise, the crystallographic planes are geometric planes linking nodes. Some directions and planes have a higher density of nodes. These high density planes have an influence on the behavior of the crystal as follows:[3]

  • Optical properties: Refractive index is directly related to density (or periodic density fluctuations).
  • Adsorption and reactivity: Physical adsorption and chemical reactions occur at or near surface atoms or molecules. These phenomena are thus sensitive to the density of nodes.
  • Surface tension: The condensation of a material means that the atoms, ions or molecules are more stable if they are surrounded by other similar species. The surface tension of an interface thus varies according to the density on the surface.
Dense crystallographic planes
  • Microstructural defects: Pores and crystallites tend to have straight grain boundaries following higher density planes.
  • Cleavage: This typically occurs preferentially parallel to higher density planes.
  • Plastic deformation: Dislocation glide occurs preferentially parallel to higher density planes. The perturbation carried by the dislocation (Burgers vector) is along a dense direction. The shift of one node in a more dense direction requires a lesser distortion of the crystal lattice.

Some directions and planes are defined by symmetry of the crystal system. In monoclinic, rhombohedral, tetragonal, and trigonal/hexagonal systems there is one unique axis (sometimes called the principal axis) which has higher rotational symmetry than the other two axes. The basal plane is the plane perpendicular to the principal axis in these crystal systems. For triclinic, orthorhombic, and cubic crystal systems the axis designation is arbitrary and there is no principal axis.

Cubic structures

For the special case of simple cubic crystals, the lattice vectors are orthogonal and of equal length (usually denoted a); similarly for the reciprocal lattice. So, in this common case, the Miller indices (ℓmn) and [ℓmn] both simply denote normals/directions in Cartesian coordinates. For cubic crystals with lattice constant a, the spacing d between adjacent (ℓmn) lattice planes is (from above):

Because of the symmetry of cubic crystals, it is possible to change the place and sign of the integers and have equivalent directions and planes:

  • Coordinates in angle brackets such as ⟨100⟩ denote a family of directions that are equivalent due to symmetry operations, such as [100], [010], [001] or the negative of any of those directions.
  • Coordinates in curly brackets or braces such as {100} denote a family of plane normals that are equivalent due to symmetry operations, much the way angle brackets denote a family of directions.

For face-centered cubic (fcc) and body-centered cubic (bcc) lattices, the primitive lattice vectors are not orthogonal. However, in these cases the Miller indices are conventionally defined relative to the lattice vectors of the cubic supercell and hence are again simply the Cartesian directions.

Interplanar spacing

The spacing d between adjacent (hkl) lattice planes is given by:[7]

  • Cubic:
  • Tetragonal:
  • Hexagonal:
  • Rhombohedral:
  • Orthorhombic:
  • Monoclinic:
  • Triclinic:
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