Exploring Crystal Structures with XtalDraw

Wendy Panero
Ohio State University
Author Profile

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see https://serc.carleton.edu/teachearth/activity_review.html.

This page first made public: Jul 16, 2009


This exercise uses publicly available resources to visualize mineral structures in three dimensions on the computer, including symmetry, the use of polyhedral modeling and linking, and the effects of solid solutions on bonding.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



Undergraduate mineralogy

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

This exercise comes after a brief introduction to symmetry, lattices, and Pauling's rules.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is part of a sequence including X-ray diffraction, X-ray fluorescence, and a final project on an individual's mineral. This can be easily adapted to be stand alone exercise.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Crystal structures and symmetries in minerals.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Visualization in three dimensions and formulating an understanding of the effects of solid solutions on the lattice.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

At the end of this exercise students will be able to use computer-based software to draw crystal structures and visualize symmetries present in minerals. By varying the way in which atoms or groups of atoms are displayed, they will begin to see how atoms link through bonds. Students will also begin to investigate the effects of variable composition on bonding on unit cell parameters.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Brief free response to each section.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials