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Introduction of Solid State Physics: Crystalline Lattice, Crystal Growth, and Physical Properties

In 1913, Lawrence Bragg and his father William Henry Bragg reported that crystalline solids produced surprising patterns of reflected X-rays. Lawrence Bragg explained

this result by modeling the crystal as set of discrete parallel planes separated by a constant parameter d and that the incident X-ray radiation would produce a Bragg peak if their reflections off the various planes interfered constructively. This condition can be expressed by the Bragg’s law, which provides a powerful new tool to reveal the periodically arranged atoms in crystalline materials. For example, NaCl, the salt used in kitchen every day, actually has a face- centered cubic structure with alternative Na + and Cl – ions arrangements as shown in the below figure. Lawrence Bragg and William Henry Bragg were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1915 for their work in determining crystal structures. They are the only father-son team to jointly win. Lawrence Bragg was 25 years old, making him the youngest physics Nobel laureate.


During the more than 100 years after the Bragg law, the advance of solid state physics has continuously demonstrated that the crystalline structure profoundly affects the materials’ physical properties. The technology development also showed that the availability of crystalline materials with designed performance is the foundation of various applications of our modern society. For example, many electronic devices have to use the “Silicon”, which is a semiconductor, with its crystalline form. As shown in right figure, the capability to grow large size of silicon crystal (as large as an adult’s size) is the foundation of this semiconductor industry. In this course, we will introduce (i) first, the crystalline lattice, the principles for the Bragg law, and the techniques for crystal growth; (ii) second, the physical properties of crystalline materials, including metal, semiconductor, magnetism, and superconductors (a fascinating material with zero resistance).

Besides the regular lectures in the class room, the students will also attend lab work to experience how a crystalline material is synthesized and characterized. The students will be divided to groups to work on separated projects involving solid state reaction, crystal growth by using Image furnace, and physical properties characterization using X-ray diffractormeter, magnetormeter, and other devices in the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials (JIAM). After the experiments, the students will discuss the results and summarize them as a poster/presentation.

Several guest speakers will also be invited to the class to introduce more advanced crystalline materials, such as the scintillator crystals and heterostructure with thin films. The students also will have chance to visit the related facilities in which these materials are made.

Student Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the course, students will understand

  • the crystalline lattice, the principles for the Bragg law, and the techniques for crystal growth
  • the physical properties of crystalline materials, including metal, semiconductor, magnetism, and superconductors

Course Requirements/Examinations

The criteria for assigning grades for the course are the following:

  • Attendance of the lectures (30% of grade)
  • Lab work performance (40% of grade)
  • Preparation of a team-based poster/presentation at the end of the course (30% of grade)

Credit Hours: 3

Course Instructors

Dr. Haidong Zhou, Course Director

Haidong ZhouHaidong Zhou is an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UTK. Haidong obtained his PH.D. in Physics in December 2005 from University of Texas at Austin. He became a Postdoctoral Associate at National High Magnetic Field Lab/Florida Sate University with Prof. C. R. Wiebe. In August 2008, he obtained a position as assistant scholar/scientist in NHMFL. He became an Assistant Professor in the Physics Department at UTK in August 2012.

Haidong’s research is concerned with the nature of phase transitions in condensed matter systems, especially strongly correlated systems and quantum matters. More specifically, he is involved with the single crystal growth and using the x-ray scattering, low temperature and high magnetic field measurements, and neutron scattering, as complementary probes to study the spin, electron and structure of solids. His research interests are:

  • Single crystal growth
  • Geometrically frustrated magnets (GFM)
  • Multiferroic systems
  • Systems with strong spin/orbital/lattice coupling
  • Systems approaching the itinerant electron limit

Qing Huang, Teaching Assistant

Qing HuangMy name is Qing Huang. I am a fourth year PhD student in the Physics Department at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) and majoring in condensed matter physics. Currently, I am working in Dr. Zhou’s research group, focusing on the single crystal growth and studies of quantum magnet. In my free time, I enjoy listening to music, playing basketball and playing video games. This would be my first year to work as a TA for Governor’s School, I am looking forward to assisting students to learn physics during this summer.