Explore the Solid State of Matter
by Growing Your Own Crystals
BY CAMILLE Y. JONES
Crystals are a ubiquitous part of our world and essen- tial to our everyday existence. We use them to pave roads and erect buildings and in the manufacture of cars, buses, and electronic devices. We ingest crys- tals in our foods and medicines, apply them to our
skin, and wear them as jewelry. Simply take a brief excursion
into any of the spaces on our planet, either natural or artificial,
and at least a few crystals are bound to turn up.
The great news is, if you’re interested in gaining a better
understanding of crystals and crystallography, you don’t necessarily need access to exotic chemicals or expensive laboratory equipment. In fact, you needn’t go any farther than your
kitchen cupboard or garage to begin your exploration of the
crystalline world. With just a few basic household chemical
ingredients and some basic tools, you can grow and study beautiful crystals. And since 2014 is the International Year of Crystallography (IYCr), you can also access a wide range of special crystallography resources on the IYCr website at www.iycr2014.org.
Let the exploration begin
First, look around and consider the big picture. The solid materials in our world are either crystalline or amorphous. Plastics,
for example, can be in a completely amorphous, glassy, or
partially crystalline form. Many properties of plastics depend
on the extent of crystallinity in their structure. Also, most metals you see are probably crystalline; however, some metals can
be processed into a glassy form. The same is true of ceramics,
which can be either crystalline or glassy. Composites of all
varieties, ceramic/ceramic, polymer/ceramic, and so on, may
also contain a combination of crystalline and glassy materials. Some forms of materials, such as fibers, can be crystalline,
amorphous, or both.
Many crystalline materials would be too difficult for us
to try to grow without special apparatus, because of the
extreme conditions of temperature and pressure that would
be required, or because of their toxicity or other hazards.
With these difficulties in mind, the best candidates to use for
exploring crystals are the products that we use for cooking
and personal care.
This article is presented in
recognition of the International
Year of Crystallography in
an effort to increase public
awareness worldwide of the
science of crystallography.