The unit cell
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The Unit Cell. Crystallography, Crystal Symmetry, and Crystal Systems. Smallest divisible unit of a mineral that possesses the symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral Atoms are arranged in a "box" with parallel sides - an atomic scale (5-15 Å) parallelepiped

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The unit cell l.jpg

The Unit Cell

Crystallography, Crystal Symmetry, and Crystal Systems


What is a unit cell l.jpg

Smallest divisible unit of a mineral that possesses the symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral

Atoms are arranged in a "box" with parallel sides - an atomic scale (5-15 Å) parallelepiped

The “box” contains a small group of atoms proportional to mineral formula

Atoms have a fixed geometry relative to one another

Atoms may be at the corners, on the edges, on the faces, or wholly enclosed in the “box”

Each unit cell in the crystal is identical

Repetition of the “box” in 3 dimensions makes up the crystal

What is a Unit Cell?

Unit cell for ZnS, Sphalerite


The unit cell3 l.jpg
The Unit Cell symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral

  • Unites chemical properties (formula) and structure (symmetry elements) of a mineral

  • Chemical properties:

    • Contains a whole number multiple of chemical formula units (“Z” number)

    • Same composition throughout

  • Structural elements:

    • 14 possible geometries (Bravias Lattices); six crystal systems (Isometric, Tetragonal, Hexagonal, etc.)

    • Defined by lengths of axes (a, b, c) and volume (V)

    • Defined by angles between axes (α, β, γ)

    • Symmetry of unit cell is at least as great as final crystal form


The unit cell4 l.jpg
The Unit Cell symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral

  • The unit cell has electrical neutrality through charge sharing with adjacent unit cells

  • The unit cell geometry reflects the coordination principle (coordination polyhedron)

Halite (NaCl) unit cell

Galena (PbS) unit cell


The unit cell and z number l.jpg
The Unit Cell and symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral “Z” Number

  • Determined through density-geometry calculations

  • Determined in unit cell models, by “fractional ion contribution” (ion charge balance) calculations

    • Ions entirely within the unit cell

      • 1x charge contribution

    • Ions on faces of the unit cell

      • 1/2x charge contribution

    • Ions on the edges of the unitcell

      • 1/4x charge contribution

    • Ions on the corners of the unitcell

      • 1/8x charge contribution

Halite (NaCl) unit cell; Z = 4


The unit cell and z number6 l.jpg
The Unit Cell and symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral “Z” Number

Galena and Halite


The unit cell and z number7 l.jpg
The Unit Cell and symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral “Z” Number

Fluorite, CaF2

Cassiterite, SnO2


Unit cell dimensions l.jpg
Unit Cell Dimensions symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral

  • Size and shape of unit cells are determined on the basis of crystal structural analysis (using x-ray diffraction)

    • Lengths of sides (volume)

    • Angles between faces

nλ=2dsinθ


X ray diffractograms l.jpg
X-ray Diffractograms symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral

X-ray energy

Reflection angle


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Unit Cell Geometry symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral

  • Arrangement of atoms determines unit cell geometry:

    • Primitive = atoms only at corners

    • Body-centered = atoms at corners and center

    • Face-centered = atoms at corners and 2 (or more) faces

  • Lengths and angles of axes determine six unit cell classes

    • Same as crystal classes


Coordination polyhedron and unit cells l.jpg
Coordination Polyhedron and Unit Cells symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral

  • They are not the same!

  • BUT, coordination polyhedron is contained within a unit cell

  • Relationship between the unit cell and crystallography

    • Crystal systems and reference, axial coordinate system

Halite (NaCl) unit cell; Z = 4

Cl CN = 6; octahedral


Unit cells and crystals l.jpg
Unit Cells and Crystals symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral

  • The unit cell is often used in mineral classification at the subclass or group level

  • Unit cell = building block of crystals

  • Lattice = infinite, repeating arrangement of unit cells to make the crystal

  • Relative proportions of elements in the unit cell are indicated by the chemical formula (Z number)

Sphalerite, (Zn,Fe)S, Z=4


Unit cells and crystals13 l.jpg
Unit Cells and Crystals symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral

  • Crystals belong to one of six crystal systems

    • Unit cells of distinct shape and symmetry characterize each crystal system

  • Total crystal symmetry depends on unit cell and lattice symmetry

  • Crystals can occur in any size and may (or may not!) express the internal order of constituent atoms with external crystal faces

    • Euhedral, subhedral, anhedral


Crystal systems l.jpg
Crystal Systems symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral

  • Unit cell has at least as much symmetry as crystal itself

    • Unit cell defines the crystal system

  • Geometry of 3D polyhedral solids

    • Defined by axis length and angle

    • Applies to both megascopic crystals and unit cells

    • Results in geometric arrangements of

      • Faces (planes)

      • Edges (lines)

      • Corners (points)


Crystal systems 6 or 7 including trigonal l.jpg
Crystal Systems: symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral 6 (or 7, including Trigonal)

  • Defined by symmetry

    • Physical manipulation resulting in repetition

  • Symmetry elements

    • Center of symmetry = center of gravity; every face, edge and corner repeated by an inversion (2 rotations about perpendicular axis)

    • Axis of symmetry = line about which serial rotation produces repetition; the number of serial rotations in 360° rotation determines “foldedness”: 1 (A1), 2 (A2), 3 (A3), 4 (A4), 6 (A6)

    • Plane of symmetry = plane of repetition (mirror plane)


The 6 crystal systems l.jpg
The 6 Crystal Systems symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral

  • Cubic (isometric)

    • High symmetry: 4A3

    • a = b = c

    • All angles 90°

  • Tetragonal

    • 1A4

    • a = b ≠ c

    • All angles 90°


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The 6 Crystal Systems symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral

  • Hexagonal (trigonal)

    • 1A6 or 1A3

    • a = b ≠ c

    • α = β = 90°; γ = 120°

  • Orthorhombic

    • 3A2 (mutually perpendicular)

    • a ≠ b ≠ c

    • All angles 90°


The 6 crystal systems18 l.jpg
The 6 Crystal Systems symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral

  • Monoclinic

    • 1A2

    • a ≠ b ≠ c

    • α = γ = 90°; β≠90°

  • Triclinic

    • 1A1

    • a ≠ b ≠ c

    • α≠β≠γ≠90°


Collaborative activity l.jpg
Collaborative Activity: symmetry and chemical properties of the mineral

In groups answer the following:

  • Calculate the density of fluorite (CaF2). The Z-number for fluorite is 4, and unit cell axis length is 5.46 Å.

    A. Find V, the unit cell volume (5.46 Å)3 and convert this value to cm3 (1 Å3 = 10-24 cm3)

    B. Find M, the gram atomic weight of fluorite (Ca + 2F)

    C. Calculate G (density) using: G = (Z x M)/(A x V)

  • Using the chemical analysis of pyrite (FeS2), calculate the Z-number. The density (G) of pyrite is 5.02 g/cm3 and the unit cell axial length is 5.42 Å.

    A. Find V, the unit cell volume: (5.42 Å)3 – Note: you don’t need to convert to cm3 in this case because the final formula uses Å3.

    B. In the table, calculate the atomic proportions of each element (P/N = wt% / atomic weight)

    C. Calculate Z for each element using: (P/N)(VG/166.02) [Note: this formula is a slightly reorganized version of the one in the homework]

    D. Sum the metals and use the chemical formula to determine the Z-number


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