X-Ray Crystallography


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A pair of images is shown that has four sections. In the first section, two sinusoidal waves are shown, one drawn above the other, and a section from the top of one curve to the top of the next curve is labeled “lambda.” The curves align with one another. The phrase below this reads “Constructive interference.” A right facing arrow leads from the first section to the second, which shows one larger sinusoidal curve that has higher and lower peaks and troughs. A section from the top of one curve to the top of the next curve is labeled “lambda” and the phrase below this reads “Maxima and minima reinforce.” In the second section, two sinusoidal waves are shown, one drawn above the other, and a section from the top of one curve to the top of the next curve is labeled “lambda.” The curves do not align with one another. The phrase below this reads “Destructive interference.” A right facing arrow leads from the first section to the second, which shows one flat line. The phrase below this reads “Maxima and minima cancel.”
Figure 1. Light waves occupying the same space experience interference, combining to yield waves of greater (a) or lesser (b) intensity, depending upon the separation of their maxima and minima. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

X-Ray Crystallography (OpenStax Chemistry 2e)

The size of the unit cell and the arrangement of atoms in a crystal may be determined from measurements of the diffraction of X-rays by the crystal, termed X-ray crystallography. Diffraction is the change in the direction of travel experienced by an electromagnetic wave when it encounters a physical barrier whose dimensions are comparable to those of the wavelength of the light. X-rays are electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths about as long as the distance between neighboring atoms in crystals (on the order of a few Å).

When a beam of monochromatic X-rays strikes a crystal, its rays are scattered in all directions by the atoms within the crystal. When scattered waves traveling in the same direction encounter one another, they undergo interference, a process by which the waves combine to yield either an increase or a decrease in amplitude (intensity) depending upon the extent to which the combining waves’ maxima are separated (see Figure 1).

When X-rays of a certain wavelength, λ, are scattered by atoms in adjacent crystal planes separated by a distance, d, they may undergo constructive interference when the difference between the distances traveled by the two waves prior to their combination is an integer factor, n, of the wavelength. This condition is satisfied when the angle of the diffracted beam, θ, is related to the wavelength and interatomic distance by the equation:

This relation is known as the Bragg equation in honor of W. H. Bragg, the English physicist who first explained this phenomenon. Figure 2 illustrates two examples of diffracted waves from the same two crystal planes. The figure on the left depicts waves diffracted at the Bragg angle, resulting in constructive interference, while that on the right shows diffraction and a different angle that does not satisfy the Bragg condition, resulting in destructive interference.

Two similar figures are shown. The first figure, labeled “Constructive Interference,” shows two horizontal rows of seven black dots with a line passing through them. The fourth dots of each row have a vertical line connecting them. The distance between these rows is labeled “d.” A beam labeled “Incident beam” descends at an angle labeled “theta” until it hits the line connecting the fourth dots, after which a diffracted beam ascends at the same angle “theta.” A dotted line is drawn across the diffracted beam. The second figure, labeled “Destructive interference,” is very similar, except that the angles “theta” are far more acute, making the slopes of the beams more shallow.
Figure 2. The diffraction of X-rays scattered by the atoms within a crystal permits the determination of the distance between the atoms. The top image depicts constructive interference between two scattered waves and a resultant diffracted wave of high intensity. The bottom image depicts destructive interference and a low intensity diffracted wave. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

An X-ray diffractometer, such as the one illustrated in Figure 3, may be used to measure the angles at which X-rays are diffracted when interacting with a crystal as described earlier. From such measurements, the Bragg equation may be used to compute distances between atoms as demonstrated in the following example exercise.

A diagram, labeled “a” shows a cube on the left with a channel bored into its right side labeled “X dash ray source.” A beam is leaving from this channel and traveling in a horizontal line toward an oval-shaped, short tube, labeled “Collimator to focus beam” and “X dash ray diffraction,” where it passes through a cube labeled “Crystalline material” and scatters onto a vertical sheet labeled “Imaging surface.” A second diagram, labeled “b,” shows a square sheet with a large dot in the center labeled “X dash ray beam,” that is surrounded by smaller dots arranged in rings and labeled “Diffracted X dash rays.”
Figure 3. (a) In a diffractometer, a beam of X-rays strikes a crystalline material, producing (b) an X-ray diffraction pattern that can be analyzed to determine the crystal structure. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e


Flowers, P., Theopold, K., Langley, R., & Robinson, W. R. (2019, February 14). Chemistry 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/books/chemistry-2e


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