Crystal Structures

Crystal Structures

Crystalline structures are noted by their regular, predictable and periodic arrangement of atoms or molecules. The  arrangement of atoms and molecules for crystal structures is called a lattice. Crystalline materials include many metals, chemical salts and semiconductors.


Solid crystals are classified by the cohesive forces that hold the lattice together and the shape or arrangement of the atoms in the material. Different arrangements include a simple cubic crystal, a face-centered cubic structure and a body-centered cubic structure.


In metals, each atom contributes at least one loosely bound electron to build an electron gas of nearly free electrons that move throughout the lattice structure. When an electric field E is applied to a metal, a current flows in the direction of the field. The flow of charges is described in terms of a current density J, or current per unit cross-sectional area. The current density is proportional to the applied electric field by a factor of the electrical conductivity σ of the material.

J = σ*E

The electrons in the lattice material experience a force F = -e*E due to the field and become accelerated. The velocity of electrons in the lattice is known as the drift velocity.


Bonding and the formation of Semiconductors

In atomic structures, different types of molecules have a varying number of electrons in the outer atomic rings or shells (valence electrons). Ionic bonding is performed by electrons present in the outermost shell, easily forming a positive ion by releasing the outer electron (net positive charge) or enter the outermost shell of another atom to make it a negative ion (net negative charge). Metallic bonding uses a loosely bound electron in an outermost shell to contribute to the crystal as a whole, creating a metallic crystal.

periodic table

The method of bonding for Ge, C and Si can be quite different however, since they have four valence electrons in the outermost shell. These four electrons can be shared with four neighboring molecules. The bonding force that results from this phenomenon is covalent bonding. In this formation however, electrons belonging to the same bond do not have a definite position in any one atom, meaning they may move between atoms that are bonded. Compound semiconductors such as GaAs (Gallium Arsenide), AlAs (Aluminum Arsenide) and InP (Indium Phosphide) have mixed bonding including both covalent and ionic bonding. These bonding characteristics and the ability for electrons to both move throughout atoms in the structure and to form ionic bonds are the basis for the use of semiconductor materials.

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