Physics » Condensed Matter Physics » Bonding in Crystalline Solids

Covalent and Metallic Bonding in Solids

Covalent and Metallic Bonding in Solids

Crystals can also be formed by covalent bonding. For example, covalent bonds are responsible for holding carbon atoms together in diamond crystals. The electron configuration of the carbon atom is \(1{s}^{2}2{s}^{2}2{p}^{2}\)—a He core plus four valence electrons. This electron configuration is four electrons short of a full shell, so by sharing these four electrons with other carbon atoms in a covalent bond, the shells of all carbon atoms are filled. Diamond has a more complicated structure than most ionic crystals (this figure). Each carbon atom is the center of a regular tetrahedron, and the angle between the bonds is \(110\text{°}.\) This angle is a direct consequence of the directionality of the p orbitals of carbon atoms.

Figure a shows a crystal lattice. A cube formed by dotted lines marks an area in the lattice. There are four light blue spheres, one on each diagonally opposite corner of the cube. There is a dark blue sphere in the center of the cube. All spheres are connected to each other by lines of the same length. This length is 0.154 nm. Figure b is the photograph of a diamond.

Structure of the diamond crystal. (a) The single carbon atom represented by the dark blue sphere is covalently bonded to the four carbon atoms represented by the light blue spheres. (b) Gem-quality diamonds can be cleaved along smooth planes, which gives a large number of angles that cause total internal reflection of incident light, and thus gives diamonds their prized brilliance.

Covalently bonded crystals are not as uniform as ionic crystals but are reasonably hard, difficult to melt, and are insoluble in water. For example, diamond has an extremely high melting temperature (4000 K) and is transparent to visible light. In comparison, covalently bonded tin (also known as alpha-tin, which is nonmetallic) is relatively soft, melts at 600 K, and reflects visible light. Two other important examples of covalently bonded crystals are silicon and germanium. Both of these solids are used extensively in the manufacture of diodes, transistors, and integrated circuits. We will return to these materials later in our discussion of semiconductors.

Metallic Bonding in Solids

As the name implies, metallic bonding is responsible for the formation of metallic crystals. The valence electrons are essentially free of the atoms and are able to move relatively easily throughout the metallic crystal. Bonding is due to the attractive forces between the positive ions and the conduction electrons. Metallic bonds are weaker than ionic or covalent bonds, with dissociation energies in the range \(1-3\;\text{eV}\).

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