1.2 Amorphous and Crystalline Solids

Solids can be classified as crystalline or amorphous on the basis of the nature of order present in the arrangement of their constituent particles. A crystalline solid usually consists of a large number of small crystals, each of them having a definite characteristic geometrical shape.

The arrangement of constituent particles (atoms, molecules or ions) in a crystal is ordered and repetitive in three dimensions. If we observe the pattern in one region of the crystal, we can predict accurately the position of particles in any other region of the crystal however far they may be from the place of observation.

Thus, crystal has a long range order which means that there is a regular pattern of arrangement of particles which repeats itself periodically over the entire crystal. Sodium chloride and quartz are typical examples of crystalline solids.

Glass, rubber and many plastics do not form crystals when their liquids solidify on cooling. These are called amorphous solids. The term amorphous comes from the Greek word amorphos, meaning no form.The arrangement of constituent particles (atoms, molecules or ions) in such a solid has only short range order.

In such an arrangement, a regular and periodically repeating pattern is observed over short distances only. Regular patterns are scattered and in between the arrangement is disordered. The structures of quartz (crystalline) and quartz glass (amorphous) are shown in Figure (a) and (b) respectively.

While the two structures are almost identical, yet in the case of amorphous quartz glass there is no long range order. The structure of amorphous solids is similar to that of liquids. Due to the differences in the arrangement of the constituent particles, the two types of solids differ in their properties.


Crystalline solids have a sharp melting point. At a characteristic temperature they melt abruptly and become liquid. On the other hand, amorphous solids soften, melt and start flowing over a range of temperature and can be moulded and blown into various shapes. Amorphous solids have the same structural features as liquids and are conveniently regarded as extremely viscous liquids.

They may become crystalline at some temperature. Some glass objects from ancient civilisations are found to become milky in appearance because of some crystallisation. Like liquids, amorphous solids have a tendency to flow, though very slowly.

Therefore, sometimes these are called pseudo solids or super cooled liquids. Amorphous solids are isotropic in nature. Their properties such as mechanical strength, refractive index and electrical conductivity, etc., are same in all directions.

It is because there is no long range order in them and arrangement of particles is not definite along all the directions. Hence, the overall arrangement becomes equivalent in all directions. Therefore, value of any physical property would be same along any direction.

Crystalline solids are anisotropic in nature, that is, some of their physical properties like electrical resistance or refractive index show different values when measured along different directions in the same crystals. This arises from different arrangement of particles in different directions.

This is illustrated in Figure. This figure shows a simple two dimensional pattern of arrangement of two kinds of atoms. Mechanical property such as resistance to shearing stress might be quite different in two directions indicated in the figure. Deformation in CD direction displaces row which has two different types of atoms while in AB direction rows made of one type of atoms are displaced.

Besides crystalline and amorphous solids, there are some solids which apparently appear amorphous but have microcrystalline structures. These are called polycrystalline solids.

Metals often occur in polycrystalline condition. Individual crystals are randomly oriented so a metallic sample may appear to be isotropic even though a single crystal is anisotropic.

Amorphous solids are useful materials. Glass, rubber and plastics find many applications in our daily lives. Amorphous silicon is one of the best photovoltaic material available for conversion of sunlight into electricity.

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