Last Updated: Dec 06, 2022     Views: 6

Structure

The atoms in glass and crystals are arranged in different structures:

  • Amorphous Structure - atoms are arranged in randomly without order.  Glass has an amorphous structure.
  • Crystalline Structure -  atoms are arranged in a specific order.  This order can be predicted. Crystals such as quartz have a crystalline structure. 
Drawing of the structure of glass and the structure of crystal

Formation

Glass is made from a combination of elements heated up to extremely high temperatures until it forms into a liquid lava-like substance. As it quickly cools, it solidifies and becomes glass. 

If molten elements cool down slowly to solid over many days or weeks, something called “crystallization” happens. All those atoms will arrange themselves into specific patterns following rules that define which atoms attach to which, how many atoms bind to each, and where they can connect.  The rules of chemistry define this orderly arrangement of atoms, and the resulting solid is called a crystal.

To form glass, specific blends of elements must be cooled quickly under the right conditions. If the liquid that became your water glass or window cooled very slowly, instead of quickly, at a factory, it would crystallize and become a whitish-colored crumbly rock.  

Glassmakers use recipes and equipment to melt, form, and cool glass ingredients to make a solid without crystals forming. 

Learn More

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  • "Amorphous Structure"  CES Information Guide - Materials Science Engineerting, 2006. https://depts.washington.edu/matseed/ces_guide/amorphous.htm.
  • "Crystalline Structure"  CES Information Guide - Materials Science Engineerting, 2006. https://depts.washington.edu/matseed/ces_guide/crystalline.htm.
  • Douglas, R. Walter , Mahan, . Gerald D. and Zallen, . Richard. "Amorphous Solid.Encyclopedia Britannica, July 31, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/science/amorphous-solid.

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