Understanding Silicon Carbide Crystal Structure

Silicon carbide is an extremely strong chemical compound with wide band-gap semiconductor properties. Naturally occurring as the rare gemstone moissanite and produced through chemical reduction processes in electric furnaces.

Hardness, rigidity and thermal conductivity all combine to make it an attractive material for mirrors in astronomical telescopes. Furthermore, its crystalline structure remains stable under high temperatures while offering protection from acidic solutions and corrosion.


SiC can crystallize in various structures known as polytypes. Each polytype offers its own set of properties that make them useful in electrical, optical and thermal applications; it is important to understand their differences before choosing which polytype to use.

Each polytype possesses its own stacking sequence and lattice geometry; for instance, 6H polytype is distinguished from 15R polytype by having hexagonal symmetry, while their respective arrangements of silicon and carbon atoms. Furthermore, each has its own stoichiometry which plays a large role in polytype stability.

Though there is an enormous range of polytypes, only certain ones are of industrial interest. These include 4H and 6H hexagonal structures as well as the 3C cubic structure commonly known as b-form. Their low mobility anisotropy makes these ideal substrates for high performance devices.

There have been various theories proposed regarding polytypism, including thermodynamic and dislocation models. Unfortunately, no single theory can account for all polytypes of SiC. However, one popular explanation suggests that polytypism occurs during crystal growth due to variations in free energy that arise due to differences between system entropy and state variables like pressure volume temperature.

Stacking sequences

Silicon Carbide (SiC) is known for its polytypic nature, enabling it to exist in various crystal structures. Each structure exhibits different physical properties due to differences in layer stacking sequences and lattice distortions that determine its crystal structure – as well as contributing to the wide array of chemical and physical properties it possesses.

Silicon carbide atomic arrangements define stacking sequences within layers, where Si and C atoms are arranged into layers by growth. Si and C atoms arrange themselves into three configurations to maximize density; during growth, these three configurations define what is known as the unit cell and is considered part of its crystal structure. Depending on which configurations form this cell, hexagonal close-packed, face centered cubic, or rhombohedral forms could emerge depending on this unit cell’s configurations.

Silicon carbide’s polytypes are distinguished by their distinct electrical, optical, and mechanical properties; hexagonal and rhombohedral polytypes are known as the A-forms; cubic polytypes are designated B-forms. A-form materials are distinguished by low mobility anisotropy due to their tetrahedral structure – properties which make this material popular choice for high performance astronomical mirrors and spacecraft components.

Crystallographic symmetry

Silicon carbide is a layered crystal that can take on several different forms, known as polytypes. Each polytype has a distinctive crystal structure defined by configurations of silicon and carbon atoms that form three configurations in close packing to achieve nearest packing. A polytype’s unit cell represents this characteristic patterning and determines its shape.

Wurtzite polytypes are widely recognized for their hexagonal symmetry and are more commonly referred to as 6H or 4H-SiC polytypes. Although this structure can be grown on non-silicon carbide substrates using epitaxial growth processes, their quality remains relatively poor due to a number of defects and dislocations present within them.

In this instance, the defects are edge dislocations which cause layer displacement, leading to diffuse and distorted X-ray patterns of wurtzite silicon carbide. Such structures indicate an absence of one-dimensional disorder within a system.

Silicon carbide’s crystalline structure has become ever more significant due to its growing application in manufacturing and technology, thanks to its wide-spread use in both sectors. Due to its unique properties, silicon carbide has proven itself as an extremely valuable material across a range of applications. While rare on Earth as a natural mineral form, its abundance in space is apparent with Murchison meteorite being one such example of unaltered carbonaceous chondrite meteorites bearing it; furthermore it can be made artificially using equal proportions silicon and carbon from starting point as well.

Physical properties

Silicon carbide boasts many physical characteristics that make it suitable for many different applications, from hardness and thermal conductivity to chemical resistance and thermal expansion resistance. As a durable ceramic it is often found in industrial abrasives or cutting tools; additionally it can also be made into p-type and n-type devices through controlled impurity doping processes.

SiC crystals are characterized by tetrahedral coordination, with four silicon and four carbon atoms bound into an intricate network by four silicon atoms and four carbon atoms in an interlocked arrangement resembling an intricate diamond. This bonding structure makes SiC extremely strong and hard. Silicon carbide exists as multiple crystal structures within itself – 3C-SiC and 4H-SiC being the two most prevalent polytypes.

Silicon carbide can be made using various processes, and each type has distinct physical properties. Most commonly produced using an electric furnace and heated mixtures of alumina and coke; pure silica sand or carbon black can also be used. Once created, crystals can then be ground into powder for use as either an abrasive or semiconductor material.

Silicon carbide is relatively rare in nature but can still be found in meteorites and space objects like the Murchison meteorite containing small quantities of beta silicon carbide – its unique structural makeup making it suitable for space applications.

Scroll to Top