Tables for
Volume B
Reciprocal space
Edited by U. Shumeli

International Tables for Crystallography (2006). Vol. B, ch. 3.1, p. 348   | 1 | 2 |

Section 3.1.1. Introduction

D. E. Sandsa*

aDepartment of Chemistry, University of Kentucky, Chemistry–Physics Building, Lexington, Kentucky 40506-0055, USA
Correspondence e-mail:

3.1.1. Introduction

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A crystal structure analysis provides information from which it is possible to compute distances between atoms, angles between interatomic vectors, and the uncertainties in these quantities. In Cartesian coordinate systems, these geometric computations require the Pythagorean theorem and elementary trigonometry. The natural coordinate systems of crystals, though, are determined by symmetry, and only in special cases are the basis vectors (or coordinate axes) of these systems constrained to be of equal lengths or mutually perpendicular.

It is possible, of course, to transform the positional parameters of the atoms to a Cartesian system and perform the subsequent calculations with the transformed coordinates. Along with the coordinates, the transformations must be applied to anisotropic thermal factors, variance–covariance matrices and other important quantities. Moreover, leaving the natural coordinate system of the crystal sacrifices the simplified relationships imposed by translational and point symmetry; for example, if an atom has fractional coordinates [x^{1}], [x^{2}], [x^{3}], an equivalent atom will be at [1 + x^{1}], [x^{2}], [x^{3}], etc.

Fortunately, formulation of the calculations in generalized rectilinear coordinate systems is straightforward, and readily adapted to computer languages (Section 3.1.12[link] illustrates the use of Fortran for such calculations). The techniques for these computations are those of tensor analysis, which provides a compact and elegant notation. While an effort will be made to be self-sufficient in this chapter, some proficiency in vector algebra is assumed, and the reader not familiar with the basics of tensor analysis should refer to Chapter 1.1[link] and Sands (1982a[link]).


Sands, D. E. (1982a). Vectors and tensors in crystallography. Reading: Addison Wesley. Reprinted (1995) Dover Publications.

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