This is a resource that provides an introduction to crystal structures, including paper models to cut out and make. You can use these resources freely for any activities. Contact us if you have any questions or feedback or request the teacher pack of this resource.
Crystal structuresAt the Cambridge Centre for Gallium Nitride we investigate the properties of different solid materials, which are related to Gallium nitride (GaN), or on which Gallium Nitride can be deposited. These materials are generally crystalline meaning that the atoms that make them are arranged in a highly ordered periodic structure, known as the crystal structure of the material. The properties of the crystal structure, such as the types of atoms it contains, their arrangement, spacing and the nature of their bond, have a huge impact on the material’s physical properties. For example, one can change the colour of a gallium nitride based LED by exchanging some of the gallium atoms for indium or aluminium atoms.
The main focus of our work is - of course - on GaN, which often has a hexagonal crystal structure known scientifically as wurtzite, but which can also be grown in a cubic structure called zincblende, which has completely different properties. However, far more crystal structures exist in nature. Most metals and many other minerals have a body-centred cubic (bcc), face-centred cubic (fcc), or hexagonal close packed (hcp) structure.
Here we provide some information and activities that introduce crystal structures. Click on the images/crystal structures below, and learn more about them. Use our guides to make your own 3D paper models of different crystals, and explore their nature.