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Common Classes Of Crystalline Solids

The standard classes of crystalline solids are the metals, ionic compounds, molecular compounds, and network solids.

The metals are those elements occurring on the left side of the periodic table (a classification of elements based on the number of protons in their nuclei), up to the diagonal that connects boron and astatine. The nuclei of metal atoms take up highly ordered, crystalline arrangements; the atomic electrons are relatively free to move throughout the metal, making metals good conductors of electricity.

When a metallic element combines with a nonmetal (an element which is on the right side of the boron-astatine diagonal) an ionic compound is obtained. Ionic compounds do not consist of molecules, but are made up of ordered arrays of ions. An ion is a charged atom or molecule; a positive ion (or cation) is produced when an atom gives up an electron, and a negative ion (or anion) is the result when an atom gains an electron. The attraction of opposite charges of cations and anions (electrostatic attraction) keeps them in close proximity to each other. In compounds, the ions assume the ordered arrangements characteristic of crystals. The strong electrostatic forces between oppositely charged ions make it very difficult to separate the ions and break down the crystal structure; thus, ionic compounds have very high melting points (generally higher than 1,742°F [950°C]). Because the electrons in ionic compounds are not free to move throughout the crystal, these compounds do not conduct electricity unless the ions themselves are released by heating to high temperatures or by dissolving the compound.

When nonmetallic elements combine in reactions, the resulting compound is a molecular compound. Within such compounds the atoms are linked by shared electrons, so that ions are not present. However, partial charges arise in individual molecules because of uneven distribution of electrons within each molecule. Partial positive charges in one molecule can attract partial negative charges in another, resulting in ordered crystalline arrangements of the molecules. The forces of attraction between molecules in crystals of covalent compounds are relatively weak, so these compounds require much less energy to separate the molecules and break down the crystals; thus, the melting points of covalent compounds are usually less than 572°F (300°C). Because charged particles are not present, covalent compounds do not conduct electricity, even when the crystals are broken down by melting or by dissolving.

Network solids are substances in which atoms are bonded covalently to each other to form large networks of molecules of nondefinite size. Examples of network solids include diamond and graphite, which are two crystalline forms of carbon, and silicates, such as sand, rock, and minerals, which are made up of silicon and oxygen atoms. Because the atoms occupy specific bonding sites relative to each other, the resulting arrangement is highly ordered and, therefore, crystalline. Network solids have very high melting points because all the atoms are linked to their neighbors by strong covalent bonds. Thus, the melting point of diamond is 6,332°F (3,500°C). Such solids are insoluble because the energy required to separate the atoms is so high.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cosine to Cyano groupCrystal - Common Classes Of Crystalline Solids, Internal Structures Of Metallic Crystals, Common Internal Structures Of Crystals Of Ionic Solids