Crystal Growth - Introduction


Crystalline solids are typically formed by cooling and solidification from the molten (or liquid) state. According to the Ehrenfest classification of first-order phase transitions, there is a discontinuous change in volume (and thus a discontinuity in the slope or first derivative with respect to temperature, dV/dT) at the melting point. Within this context, the crystal and melt are distinct phases with an interfacial discontinuity having a surface of tension with a positive surface energy. Thus, a metastable parent phase is always stable with respect to the nucleation of small embryos or droplets from a daughter phase, provided it has a positive surface of tension. Such first-order transitions must proceed by the advancement of an interfacial region whose structure and properties vary discontinuously from the parent phase.

The process of nucleation and growth generally occurs in two different stages. In the first nucleation stage, a small nucleus containing the newly forming crystal is created. Nucleation occurs relatively slowly as the initial crystal components must impinge on each other in the correct orientation and placement for them to adhere and form the crystal. After crystal nucleation, the second stage of 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. As first pointed out by Frank, perfect crystals would only grow exceedingly slowly. Real crystals grow comparatively rapidly because they contain dislocations (and other defects), which provide the necessary growth points, thus providing the necessary catalyst for structural transformation and long-range order formation.

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