Mechanisms of Growth
The interface between a crystal and its vapor can be molecularly sharp at temperatures well below the melting point. An ideal crystalline surface grows by the spreading of single layers, or equivalently, by the lateral advance of the growth steps bounding the layers. For perceptible growth rates, this mechanism requires a finite driving force (or degree of supercooling) in order to lower the nucleation barrier sufficiently for nucleation to occur by means of thermal fluctuations. In the theory of crystal growth from the melt, Burton and Cabrera have distinguished between two major mechanisms:
- Non-uniform lateral growth. The surface advances by the lateral motion of steps which are one interplanar spacing in height (or some integral multiple thereof). An element of surface undergoes no change and does not advance normal to itself except during the passage of a step, and then it advances by the step height. It is useful to consider the step as the transition between two adjacent regions of a surface which are parallel to each other and thus identical in configuration — displaced from each other by an integral number of lattice planes. Note here the distinct possibility of a step in a diffuse surface, even though the step height would be much smaller than the thickness of the diffuse surface.
- Uniform normal growth. The surface advances normal to itself without the necessity of a stepwise growth mechanism. This means that in the presence of a sufficient thermodynamic driving force, every element of surface is capable of a continuous change contributing to the advancement of the interface. For a sharp or discontinuous surface, this continuous change may be more or less uniform over large areas each successive new layer. For a more diffuse surface, a continuous growth mechanism may require change over several successive layers simultaneously.
Non-uniform lateral growth is a geometrical motion of steps — as opposed to motion of the entire surface normal to itself. Alternatively, uniform normal growth is based on the time sequence of an element of surface. In this mode, there is no motion or change except when a step passes via a continual change. The prediction of which mechanism will be operative under any set of given conditions is fundamental to the understanding of crystal growth. Two criteria have been used to make this prediction:
- Whether or not the surface is diffuse. A diffuse surface is one in which the change from one phase to another is continuous, occurring over several atomic planes. This is in contrast to a sharp surface for which the major change in property (e.g. density or composition) is discontinuous, and is generally confined to a depth of one interplanar distance.
- Whether or not the surface is singular. A singular surface is one in which the surface tension as a function of orientation has a pointed minimum. Growth of singular surfaces is known to requires steps, whereas it is generally held that non-singular surfaces can continuously advance normal to themselves.
Read more about this topic: Crystal Growth
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