SITE VISIT: Crystal Clear

Science  26 May 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5470, pp. 1295
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5470.1295c

From ice to steel to the most exotic superconductors, the vast majority of solids are crystals deep down. And most of their properties depend directly on how atoms stack together in the regular patterns known as crystal lattices. Graphite is soft and opaque and diamond is hard and clear, for instance, because the two forms of carbon incorporate different lattices. Nature dreamt up 230 basic lattice designs, and you can see dozens of the more common and more interesting ones at Crystal Lattice Structures, a Web site maintained by the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

The site makes a quick and easy reference for the researcher puzzling over an unfamiliar material. Vivid diagrams show each crystal structure from a variety of angles, structures are indexed in three different ways, and detailed technical information explains precisely how each lattice fits together. Annotated links point the way to more information. The site assumes terms such as “basis vector” and “space group” won't send you running for cover. But even visitors who wouldn't know a unit cell if it fell on them will get a kick out of peering at the complicated pictures.

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