Crystallographic defects

Crystalline solids have a very regular atomic structure: that is, the local positions of atoms with respect to each other are repeated at the atomic scale. These arrangements are called crystal structures, and their study is called crystallography. However, most crystalline materials are not perfect: the regular pattern of atomic arrangement is interrupted by crystal defects. The various types of defects are enumerated here.

Point defects

  • Vacancies are sites which are usually occupied by an atom but which are unoccupied. If a neighboring atom moves to occupy the vacant site, the vacancy moves in the opposite direction to the site which used to be occupied by the moving atom. The stability of the surrounding crystal structure guarrantees that the neighboring atoms will not simply collapse aroud the vacancy. In some materials, neighboring atoms actually move away from a vacancy, because they can better form bonds with atoms in the other directions.

  • Interstitials are atoms which occupy a site in the crystal structure at which there is usually not an atom. They are generally high energy configurations. Small atoms in some crystals can occupy interstices without high energy, such as hydrogen in palladium.

  • Impurities occur because material are never 100% pure. In the case of an impurity, the atom is often incorporated at a regular atomic site in the crystal structure. This is neither a vacant site nor is the atom on an interstitial site. The atom is not supposed to be anywhere in the crystal, and is thus an impurity.

  • Anti-site defects occur in an ordered alloy. For example, some alloys have a regular structure in which every other atom is a different species, for illustration assume that type A atoms sit on the cube corners of a cubic lattice, and type B atoms sit in center of the cubes. If one cube has an A atom at its center, the atom is on a site usually occupied by an atom, but it is not the correct type. This is neither a vacancy nor an interstitial, nor an impurity.

  • Complexes can form between different kinds of point defects. For example, if a vacancy encounters an impurity, the two may bind together if the impurity is too large for the lattice. Interstitials can form 'split interstitial' or 'dumbbell' structures where two atoms effectively share an atomic site, resulting in neither atom actually occupying the site.

Line defects

  • Dislocations are caused by the termination of a plane of atoms in the middle of a crystal. In such a case, the surrounding planes are not straight, but instead bend around the edge of the terminating plane so that the crystal structure is perfectly ordered on either side. The analogy with a stack of paper is apt: if a half a piece of paper is inserted in a stack of paper, the defect in the stack is only noticeable at the edge of the half sheet. Dislocations can move if the atoms from one of the surrounding planes break their bonds and rebond with the atoms at the terminating edge.

Planar defects

  • Grain boundaries occur where the crystallographic direction of the lattice abruptly changes. This commonly occurs when two crystals begin growing separately and then meet.

  • Anti phase boundaries occur in ordered alloys: in this case, the crystallographic direction remains the same , each side of the boundary has an opposite phase: For example if the ordering is usually ABABABAB , an anti phase boundary takes the form of ABABBABA.

  • Stacking faults occur in a number of crystal structures, but the common example is in close packed structures. face centered cubic (fcc) structures differ from hexagonal close packed (hcp) structures only in stacking order: both structures have close packed atomic planes with six fold symmetry -- the atoms form equilateral triangles. When stacking one of these layers on top of another , the atoms are not directly on top of one another -- the first two layers are identical for hcp and fcc, and labelled AB. If the third layer is placed so that its atoms are directly above those of the first layer, the stacking will be ABA -- this is the hcp structure, and it continues ABABABAB. However there is another location for the third layer, such that its atoms are not above the first layer. Instead, the fourth layer is placed so that its atoms are directly above the first layer. This produces the stacking ABCABCABC, and is actually a cubic arrangement of the atoms. A stacking fault is a one or two layer interruption in the stacking sequence, for example if the sequence ABCABABCAB were found in an fcc structure.

Bulk defects

  • Voids are small regions where there are no atoms

  • Impurities can cluster together to form small regions of a different phase. These are often called precipitates.

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