Solid - Microscopic Description

Microscopic Description

The atoms, molecules or ions which make up a solid may be arranged in an orderly repeating pattern, or irregularly. Materials whose constituents are arranged in a regular pattern are known as crystals. In some cases, the regular ordering can continue unbroken over a large scale, for example diamonds, where each diamond is a single crystal. Solid objects that are large enough to see and handle are rarely composed of a single crystal, but instead are made of a large number of single crystals, known as crystallites, whose size can vary from a few nanometers to several meters. Such materials are called polycrystalline. Almost all common metals, and many ceramics, are polycrystalline.

Schematic representation of a random-network glassy form (left) and ordered crystalline lattice (right) of identical chemical composition.

In other materials, there is no long-range order in the position of the atoms. These solids are known as amorphous solids; examples include polystyrene and glass.

Whether a solid is crystalline or amorphous depends on the material involved, and the conditions in which it was formed. Solids which are formed by slow cooling will tend to be crystalline, while solids which are frozen rapidly are more likely to be amorphous. Likewise, the specific crystal structure adopted by a crystalline solid depends on the material involved and on how it was formed.

While many common objects, such as an ice cube or a coin, are chemically identical throughout, many other common materials comprise a number of different substances packed together. For example, a typical rock is an aggregate of several different minerals and mineraloids, with no specific chemical composition. Wood is a natural organic material consisting primarily of cellulose fibers embedded in a matrix of organic lignin. In materials science, composites of more than one constituent material can be designed to have desired properties.

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