A touch of clarity in the world of crystals

Structure and Bonding in Crystalline Materials
September 19, 2003

Time has not been kind to cystallography. The infinite perfectly repetitive lattice of cells that is the basis for so much solid-state physics, and that can be so exactly treated by group theory, has been battered by the impact of amorphous or glassy solids, quasicrystals and polymers of various sorts, so that Bloch's theorem and band structure seem now much less important than once they did. Yet as Gregory Rohrer states at the outset of his book, the goal of finding out "how elements can be combined to produce a solid with specified properties" is central to the science of materials, and it is one that still inspires students and teachers to put in the hard and detailed work required to acquire the "set of necessary (but not sufficient) skills to conduct materials research".

The book is an excellent exposition of crystal structure and crystal chemistry, treating metallic, covalent, ionic and Van der Waals bonding, but not the physical properties of metals, semiconductors or insulators. Thus we do not get any mention of metal-insulator transitions, superconducting properties, optical properties, excitons, carrier lifetimes and so on. We do not get any mechanical properties either, but we do get a good treatment of cohesive energies and phase stabilities. There is a clear account of structure determination by X-ray diffraction, but none of the modern microscopies. The selection of topics is very much that of a mineralogist, not that of a physicist or engineer.

Where it is strong is in the inclusion of the many semi-empirical schemes for classifying the bonding of elements and their compounds as a function of their location in the periodic table. The level of treatment is roughly that of a third year or perhaps an MSc final year at a British university, so that although all derivations are self-contained, the student must have some familiarity with quantum mechanics, atomic physics and electrostatics to make good progress. Each chapter includes a dozen or more problems, and several clearly worked examples, but solutions are generally not provided.

The illustrations are particularly clear.

If I were again teaching solid-state physics at honours level, I would ensure that this book is in the library, where students can consult it, and I might scavenge it for ideas for problems, but I would not recommend it as a required textbook.

L. M. (Mick) Brown is emeritus professor of physics, University of Cambridge.

Structure and Bonding in Crystalline Materials

Author - Gregory S. Rohrer
ISBN - 0 521 66328 8 and 66379 2
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Price - £75.00 and £29.95
Pages - 539

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