What Is a Crystal and How Does It Form?

By Ezmeralda Lee; Updated April 24, 2017

Introduction to Crystals

Crystals are beautiful rock formations that have amazed humans for thousands of years. They are used for many different things, not just for decoration. Many of the first radios ever invented used crystals to transmit the radio waves. Some watches, like quartz watches, still use crystals to this day. They have always been viewed as something of beauty and are still often placed with diamonds or other stones inside pieces of jewelry. The majority of crystals now are man-made in laboratories. They are extremely rare to find in the Earth.

What Are Crystals?

Crystals are nothing more than an established batch of molecules or atoms. Crystals come in many different shapes and sizes, and each one has different characteristics. What they are made of determines how it will form. Some crystals can be made from salt--these make cubed-shaped crystals. Some are derived from other elements and form completely different shapes. Some examples of these are diamonds or rubies. There are some elements that can create more than one shape. When the element carbon is in the form of a diamond, it can be used to cut gemstones, but we use it every day in other forms in a variety of things. The biggest form in which we use it is to supply electricity to our homes and businesses.

How Crystals Are Formed

If you want to see how crystals are formed, you can do a little project in your very own kitchen and see the formation of the crystals occur with your own eyes . This can be done by putting a small amount of table salt into some regular tap water, wait 24 hours, and you will see nice cubed formations. This happens because the water is evaporating, which causes the atoms that make up the salt (the mineral) and the water to come closer together. They will eventually make a nice little uniform cluster of atoms. The more they can come together, the more of a formation will be visible to the naked eye. Scientists can determine what mineral they are looking at by how the crystals form.

Not all crystals form in water. Some crystals can be formed in an element named carbon. Nevertheless, all crystal form the same way, atoms come together and become a uniformed cluster. The process can take as little as a few days to maybe a thousand years. Natural crystals that come from the Earth form the same way. These crystals were formed over a million years ago inside the Earth's crust. They occur when the liquid in the Earth consolidates and the temperature chills. Other crystals form when the liquid makes its way through the clefts and dispense minerals into the clefts.