Earth Science

A Guide to Crystallography

A crystal of amethyst quartz

 If you are an enthusiast of gemstones, such as ruby, amethyst, opal, emerald, etc., then this article might catch your interest. These gemstones are a sample of crystals, which often showcase a beautiful appearance that can be found in our everyday world. One of the most famous examples of crystal are diamonds, snowflakes, and table salt. Despite their different usages, these objects share some standard features that made them categorized as crystals.

Because of the incredible appearance of crystals, it became a point of interest to some scientists, which led to a study devoted to learning more about its properties. Since crystals are a part of our world, it is categorized as a branch of Earth Science called crystallography. This field of study sparked the interest of many scientists, which led to its development.

In this article, we are going to look into the definition of crystallography and other factors related to it.

What is Crystallography?

As mentioned earlier, crystallography focuses on the study of crystals, also known as crystalline solids. Its study includes the identification of the arrangement of atoms, molecules, or ions. Furthermore, various types of crystals have the same highly ordered microscopic structure, which forms a crystal lattice that extends in all directions. Crystallization or solidification is the process of creating crystals in several objects.

Interestingly, crystals come in various forms that are often created by humans. These forms include those we use and see every day, such as glass, wax, plastics, most metals, rocks, ceramics, and ice; snowflakes, diamonds, and table salt, as mentioned earlier.

Earlier methods of crystallography used a goniometer to obtain the physical measurement of an object. This method includes the analysis of the crystals’ angle and other factors related to the geometry.

This original practice of the study of crystal later gained some changes over the years. The modern crystallography heavily depends on the analysis of diffraction patterns present in an object. This pattern would serve as a piece of important information in learning more about the crystal’s properties.

What is Diffraction?

Diffraction refers to different phenomena present when a wave encounters an obstacle or a slit. A more profound meaning of diffraction is it acts as the bending of waves around the corners of an obstacle or through an aperture into the region its geometrical shadow.

The term ‘diffraction’ was coined by the Italian scientist Francesco Maria Grimaldi, wherein he was the first person to successfully record accurate observations of the phenomenon in the 17th century.

Another definition of the term was described by the Huygens-Fresnel principle, which consists of a collection of individual spherical wavelets.

What is X-ray Crystallography?

A powder x-ray diffractometer in motion

For starters, x-ray crystallography shows a more specific method of studying crystal structures. It is an experimental science devoted to identifying the atomic and molecular structures of a crystal through the use of incident x-ray beams. With the help of this, scientists could measure the angles and intensities of the diffracted beams. The information produced by the diffracted beams is sufficient for scientists to learn more about the crystal’s structure, electron density, chemical bonds, crystallographic disorder, and many others.

Interestingly, x-ray crystallography helps in the development of several other branches of science, especially during its early years. This method was considered a fundamental practice since it could produce information from various objects related to different fields of study, mainly because numerous materials are capable of creating crystals. One of its significant contributions to the development of science is its identification of the size of atoms, lengths, and types of chemical bonds, and the differences of atomic-scales among materials. It also helped in the advancement and observation of various drugs, vitamins, protein, and nucleic acids.

Moreover, our modern world still uses x-ray crystallography as a fundamental practice for characterizing the atomic structure of new materials. The use of this method left a remarkable impact on the development of science, mainly in the creation of various inventions that we have today. Pharmaceutical companies practice this method to study and observe atomic and molecular structures of an atom, as well as their chemical bond and function of biological molecules.

Despite its usefulness in the advancement of science, x-ray crystallography remains to be a primary part of the study of crystals. Today, scientists continue to develop crystallography as a part of learning more about our planet’s structure.

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