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

International Tables for Crystallography (2016). Vol. A, ch. 3.2, pp. 739-740

Section Morphology

H. Klappera and Th. Hahna Morphology

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If a crystal shows well developed faces, information on its symmetry may be derived from the external form of the crystal. By means of the optical goniometer, faces related by symmetry can be determined even for crystals far below 1 mm in diameter. By this procedure, however, only the eigensymmetry (cf. Section[link]) of the crystal morphology (which may consist of a single form or a combination of forms) can be established. The determination of the point group is unique in all cases where the observed eigensymmetry group is compatible with only one generating group.

Column 6 in Table[link] lists all point groups for which a given crystal form (characterized by its name and eigensymmetry) can occur. In 19 cases, the point group can be uniquely determined because only one entry appears in column 6. These crystal forms are always characteristic general forms, for which eigensymmetry and generating point-group symmetry are identical. They belong to the 19 point groups with more than one symmetry direction.

If a crystal exhibits a combination of forms which by themselves do not permit unambiguous determination of the point group, those generating point groups are possible that are common to all crystal forms of the combination. The mutual orientation of the forms, if variable, has to be taken into account, too.


Two tetragonal pyramids, each of eigensymmetry 4mm, rotated with respect to each other by an angle [\neq 45^{\circ}], determine the point group 4 uniquely because the eigensymmetry of the combination is only 4.

In practice, however, unequal or incomplete development of the faces of a form often simulates a symmetry that is lower than the actual crystal symmetry. In such cases, or when the morphological analysis is ambiguous, the crystallization of a small amount of the compound on a seed crystal, ground to a sphere, is useful. By this procedure, faces of additional forms (and often of the characteristic general form) appear as small facets on the sphere and their interfacial angles can be measured.

In favourable cases, even the space group can be derived from the morphology of a crystal: this is based on the so-called Bravais–Donnay–Harker principle. A textbook description is given by Phillips (1971[link], ch. 13).

Furthermore, measurements of the interfacial angles by means of the optical goniometer permit the determination of the relative dimensions of a `morphological unit cell' with good accuracy. Thus, for instance, the interaxial angles α, β, γ and the axial ratio a:b:c of a triclinic crystal may be derived. The ratio a:b:c, however, may contain an uncertainty by an integral factor with respect to the actual cell edges of the crystal. This means that any one unit length may have to be multiplied by an integer in order to obtain correspondence to the `structural' unit cell.


Phillips, F. C. (1971). An Introduction to Crystallography, 4th ed., chs. 3, 4, 6 and 13. London: Longman.

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