Tables for
Volume A
Space-group symmetry
Edited by M. I. Aroyo

International Tables for Crystallography (2016). Vol. A, ch. 1.1, p. 2

Section 1.1.1. Introduction

B. Souvigniera*

aRadboud University Nijmegen, Faculty of Science, Mathematics and Computing Science, Institute for Mathematics, Astrophysics and Particle Physics, Postbus 9010, 6500 GL Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Correspondence e-mail:

1.1.1. Introduction

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Crystal structures may be investigated and classified according to their symmetry properties. But in a strict sense, crystal structures in nature are never perfectly symmetric, due to impurities, structural imperfections and especially their finite extent. Therefore, symmetry considerations deal with idealized crystal structures that are free from impurities and structural imperfections and that extend infinitely in all directions. In the mathematical model of such an idealized crystal structure, the atoms are replaced by points in a three-dimensional point space and this model will be called a crystal pattern.

A symmetry operation of a crystal pattern is a transformation of three-dimensional space that preserves distances and angles and that leaves the crystal pattern as a whole unchanged. The symmetry of a crystal pattern is then understood as the collection of all symmetry operations of the pattern.

The following simple statements about the symmetry operations of a crystal pattern are almost self-evident:

  • (a) If two symmetry operations are applied successively, the crystal pattern is still invariant, thus the combination of the two operations (called their composition) is again a symmetry operation.

  • (b) Every symmetry operation can be reversed by simply moving every point back to its original position.

These observations (together with the fact that leaving all points in their position is also a symmetry operation) show that the symmetry operations of a crystal pattern form an algebraic structure called a group.

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