What Is The Difference Between Crystals And Quasicrystals

Crystals and quasicrystals are two fascinating states of solid matter, each with distinct structural features and physical properties. While crystals have long been studied for their symmetrical and periodic patterns, quasicrystals were discovered relatively recently and are recognized for their unusual atomic arrangements. These materials not only captivate scientists but also hold significant implications across various technological fields.

The main difference between crystals and quasicrystals lies in their atomic structures. Crystals are characterized by their orderly and repeating atomic patterns, which extend in three-dimensional space. Quasicrystals, on the other hand, exhibit a form of order that is non-repeating and lacks translational symmetry, presenting patterns that are both ordered and non-periodic.

Understanding the unique structures of crystals and quasicrystals reveals why they behave differently under similar conditions. Their distinctive atomic arrangements influence their mechanical, electrical, and thermal properties, making each suitable for specific applications in science and industry.

Defining Crystals

Basic Concept of Crystals

Crystals are solid materials where the atoms, molecules, or ions are packed in a highly ordered and repeating pattern extending in all three dimensions. This repetitive structure is known as a crystal lattice, which provides crystals with their unique and symmetric geometric shapes, such as cubes and hexagons. From snowflakes to salt, the natural world and everyday life are rich with examples of crystalline structures.

Structural Characteristics

The structural integrity of crystals arises from their lattice arrangement, which can vary significantly in complexity from simple cubic forms to more intricate trigonal or hexagonal systems. This arrangement not only dictates the shape but also the physical properties of the crystal, such as hardness, melting point, and refractive index. Another key characteristic is the symmetry of the lattice, which refers to the uniformity across the crystal. This symmetry results in unique and often beautiful geometric patterns that are visually identifiable in many crystals.

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Exploring Quasicrystals

Introduction to Quasicrystals

Quasicrystals are a relatively new discovery in the field of material sciences, first identified in 1982 by Dan Shechtman, who later won the Nobel Prize for this discovery. Unlike traditional crystals, quasicrystals do not exhibit a regular repeating pattern that extends infinitely. Instead, they are formed by a non-repeating pattern that still maintains a type of order and symmetry, particularly aperiodic order. This discovery was so groundbreaking because it contradicted the then-accepted belief that all crystals had to be periodic.

Key Properties

Quasicrystals are noted for their unusual physical properties, including high stability and low thermal conductivity, which make them excellent insulators. They are also highly durable, resisting wear and corrosion better than many conventional materials. Structurally, they exhibit forbidden symmetries, such as five-fold rotational symmetry, which is impossible in traditional crystals. These properties open up various applications, from non-stick coatings in cookware to efficient thermal barriers in aerospace components.

Comparative Analysis

Atomic Arrangement Differences

The core difference between crystals and quasicrystals lies in their atomic arrangements. In crystals, atoms are arranged in a structured, periodic lattice that repeats throughout the material. In contrast, quasicrystals have an ordered but non-periodic arrangement, meaning their atomic pattern is regular but does not repeat predictably. This structural variation impacts not only physical and chemical properties but also the way these materials interact with light and other forms of energy.

Symmetry and Periodicity

Symmetry in crystals is dictated by their periodic structures, leading to translational symmetry that repeats across the entire crystal. Quasicrystals, however, while still symmetrical, do not adhere to conventional periodicity. Their symmetry comes from orientations that seem to defy traditional laws of crystallography, displaying rotational symmetries, notably five-fold, that do not fit into the periodic repetition model. This unusual symmetry impacts not just their aesthetic but also their internal cohesion and interaction with external forces, setting them apart fundamentally from their crystalline counterparts.

Physical Properties

Mechanical Properties

The mechanical properties of crystals and quasicrystals distinguish them significantly, influencing their applications. Crystals typically exhibit high levels of structural uniformity, leading to predictable and often desirable mechanical characteristics like strength and hardness. For instance, diamonds, known for their crystalline structure, are one of the hardest natural substances, making them ideal for cutting tools.

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Quasicrystals, however, due to their aperiodic yet ordered structure, exhibit mechanical properties that are not found in traditional crystals. These include a high level of hardness combined with low fracture toughness, which makes them less malleable but incredibly resistant to deformation under stress. This unique combination is invaluable in applications requiring materials that must resist wear while maintaining a lightweight profile.

Electrical and Thermal Behavior

The electrical and thermal behaviors of these materials are as diverse as their structures. Crystals, depending on their atomic makeup, can range from excellent conductors, like copper, to insulators, like quartz. The predictability of their lattice structures often aids in designing materials with specific electrical properties for use in electronics and energy industries.

In contrast, quasicrystals are generally poor conductors of electricity and heat. This arises from their non-periodic atomic arrangements, which scatter phonons and electrons, thus inhibiting the flow of energy. This property makes quasicrystals excellent thermal insulators and suitable for use in environments where heat resistance is crucial, such as in aerospace coatings.

Applications in Industry

Uses of Crystals

Crystals are utilized in a wide array of industries due to their diverse properties. Some common applications include:

  • Electronics: Silicon crystals are the foundation of modern electronics, used in the manufacture of semiconductors.
  • Optical instruments: Crystalline materials like sapphire are used in lenses and lasers due to their clarity and durability.
  • Jewelry and decoration: Gemstones, which are naturally occurring crystals, are used extensively in jewelry due to their aesthetic properties.

Uses of Quasicrystals

Quasicrystals, while not as ubiquitously used as traditional crystals, have found niche applications that exploit their unique properties:

  • Non-stick coatings: Their low friction and high wear resistance make them ideal for non-stick coatings in cookware.
  • Thermal barriers: Their ability to resist heat transfer is beneficial in thermal barrier coatings, especially in engines and turbines.

Recent Research

Innovations in Crystallography

Recent advances in crystallography have not only enhanced our understanding of crystalline structures but also led to the development of new synthetic materials with tailored properties.

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Researchers are now able to manipulate the crystalline structure at the molecular level, enabling the creation of materials with specific optical, electrical, and mechanical properties. This level of control is revolutionizing industries like pharmaceuticals, where crystal engineering is used to improve the solubility and efficacy of drugs.

Quasicrystal Discoveries

The field of quasicrystals is relatively young, and recent discoveries continue to push the boundaries of material science. One of the most exciting areas of research is the potential use of quasicrystals in new types of composite materials. These composites could leverage the unique properties of quasicrystals to create materials that are lightweight yet extremely strong and durable.

Additionally, the study of natural quasicrystals, which have been found in meteorite samples, offers insights into the formation of quasicrystals under extreme conditions, suggesting possible new methods for synthesizing these materials on Earth.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Crystals?

Crystals are solid materials whose constituents, such as atoms, molecules, or ions, are arranged in a highly ordered microscopic structure, forming a crystal lattice that extends in all directions.

How are Quasicrystals Formed?

Quasicrystals form under specific conditions, typically involving rapid cooling or casting techniques that prevent the atoms from settling into the more typical periodic crystal structure. This results in a non-repetitive yet ordered arrangement.

What Distinguishes Quasicrystals from Crystals?

Quasicrystals are distinguished from traditional crystals by their aperiodic but ordered structure, which does not repeat in a regular pattern. This results in unusual symmetries, often five-fold, that are not present in ordinary crystalline materials.

Why are Quasicrystals Important in Research?

Quasicrystals are crucial in research due to their unique properties, such as low thermal conductivity and high wear resistance, which make them suitable for various innovative applications, including non-stick coatings and efficient thermoelectric materials.

Can Quasicrystals be Naturally Found?

Quasicrystals were once thought to be synthetically produced only; however, natural quasicrystals have been discovered in meteorites, indicating that they can form under natural cosmic conditions.


In sum, crystals and quasicrystals represent two distinct forms of solid materials, each with unique structural and physical characteristics that contribute to their diverse applications. The exploration of these materials not only enhances our fundamental understanding of matter but also paves the way for new technological advancements.

The ongoing research into quasicrystals, in particular, holds promise for discovering new materials with exceptional properties that could revolutionize industries ranging from aerospace to electronics. This exemplifies the importance of continued study in material science, driving innovation and scientific understanding forward.

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