Download a printable version of this document here
Solid materials can be divided up into two different types; ‘crystalline’ materials, and ‘amorphous’ materials. Glass is an example of an amorphous material, and diamond is an example of a crystalline solid; both crystalline and amorphous solids can often look quite similar to the eye, but their structures on the atomic scales are quite different.
Crystalline materials are made up of atoms, molecules and/or ions, which are arranged in a highly ordered structure, forming a crystal lattice that extends in 3 dimensions, for example the material shown in the video below, developed by Dr Joe Hriljac, in order to trap radioactive ions from nuclear waste, published here:
Amorphous solids are quite different, as they do not have any long range order throughout the material, and the atoms/ions/molecules that make up the solid structure are randomly arranged.
Crystalline materials can be studied using a technique called ‘x-ray diffraction‘, or XRD, in order to map out where the atoms lie within the lattice structure.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.