Isomorphism (crystallography)

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In crystallography crystals are described as isomorphous if they are closely similar in shape.[1] Historically crystal shape was defined by measuring the angles between crystal faces with a goniometer. In modern usage isomorphous crystals belong to the same space group.

Double sulfates, such as Tutton's salt, with the generic formula MI2MII(SO4)2.6H2O, where MI is an alkali metal and MII is a divalent ion of Mg, Mn, Fe, Co, Ni, Cu or Zn form a series of isomorphous compounds which were important in the nineteenth century in establishing the correct atomic weights of the transition elements. Alums, such as KAl(SO4)2.12H2O, are another series of isomorphous compounds, though there are three series of alums with similar external structures, but slightly different internal structures. Many spinels are also isomorphous.

In order to form isomorphous crystals two substances must have the same chemical formulation, they must contain atoms which have corresponding chemical properties and the sizes of corresponding atoms should be similar. These requirements ensure that the forces within and between molecules and ions are approximately similar and result in crystals that have the same internal structure. Even though the space group is the same, the unit cell dimensions will be slightly different because of the different sizes of the atoms involved.


  1. ^ Wells, A.F. (1984). Structural Inorganic Chemistry (5th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-855370-6.  pp 186–186 in 3rd. edition