What Is Structure Factor Data?


Angela Bailey

The structure factor data is a fundamental concept in the field of crystallography. It provides valuable information about the arrangement of atoms within a crystal lattice. This data is crucial for understanding various properties of crystals, including their diffraction patterns and electronic behavior.

What is the Structure Factor?

The structure factor (F) is a mathematical representation of the scattering of X-rays or electrons by a crystal lattice. It quantifies the amplitude and phase of each diffracted wave that results from the interaction between incident radiation and the crystal structure.

The structure factor can be represented as:

F(hkl) = Σ f_j * exp(-2πi(hx_j + ky_j + lz_j))

Here, F(hkl) represents the structure factor for a particular set of Miller indices (hkl), f_j represents the atomic scattering factor for each atom j in the unit cell, and (x_j, y_j, z_j) represent the fractional coordinates of each atom in relation to the unit cell dimensions.

Interpreting Structure Factor Data

The structure factor data provides insights into various aspects of crystallography:

  • Diffracted Intensity: The square magnitude of the structure factor, |F(hkl)|^2, corresponds to the intensity of diffracted waves at specific angles.
  • Crystal Symmetry: By analyzing multiple structure factors corresponding to different Miller indices, one can determine the crystal symmetry elements such as rotational axes, mirror planes, and inversion centers.
  • Unit Cell Parameters: The phases of structure factors help determine the unit cell parameters – lengths (a, b, c) and angles (α, β, γ) – which define the crystal lattice.
  • Atomic Positions: The structure factor data aids in determining the atomic positions within the unit cell and the arrangement of atoms in space.

Experimental Determination of Structure Factor Data

Structure factor data can be obtained through experimental techniques such as X-ray crystallography or electron diffraction. These methods involve irradiating a crystal with a beam of X-rays or electrons and measuring the resulting diffraction pattern.

X-ray crystallography relies on the constructive interference of X-rays scattered by the crystal lattice. By analyzing the diffraction pattern, one can determine the structure factors and subsequently deduce atomic positions and other crystal properties.

Similarly, electron diffraction techniques use high-energy electrons instead of X-rays to analyze crystal structures. The resulting diffraction pattern is used to obtain structure factor data for further analysis.


In summary, structure factor data plays a vital role in understanding the arrangement of atoms within a crystal lattice. It provides valuable information about diffracted intensity, crystal symmetry, unit cell parameters, and atomic positions. Experimental techniques such as X-ray crystallography and electron diffraction help determine this data, enabling scientists to gain insights into the intricate nature of crystals.

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