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Chemistry LibreTexts

7.1: Defects in Metallic Crystals

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  • “Crystals are like people, it is the defects in them which tend to make them interesting!” - Colin Humphreys.

    On the left there is an empty spot in cluster of atoms, showing a vacancy or missing atom. On the right, the atoms are not lined up properly due to dislocation: an extra plane of atoms.

    Metals, by virtue of their non-directional bonding, are more energetically tolerant of defects than are covalent network or ionic solids. Because there is no strong preference for one atomic position over another, the energy of a metallic crystal is not greatly impaired by the vacancy of a single atom or by the dislocation of a group of atoms. These kinds of "mistakes" in the packing of metal atoms within crystals are collectively called defects. The deformability of metals is the direct result of defects in the crystal structure. Defects in metals such as Al and Fe are responsible for the three orders of magnitude difference between the yield stress of annealed polycrystalline samples (i.e., normal articles of commerce) and perfect single crystals.

    Grains and grain boundaries in a polycrystalline material

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