Crystals are fascinating structures that have captivated scientists for centuries. They are formed through a process called crystallization, which is a transition from chaos to perfection. Scientists often describe crystals as if they were alive, growing in underground cavities through atoms that connect in regular three-dimensional patterns. Each crystal starts small and grows as more atoms are added, often in waters rich in dissolved minerals.
However, this is not the only condition in which crystals can form. They can also grow from molten rock or even smoke, under the influence of temperature and pressure. This variety and perfection of form and symmetry is what has attracted scientists to the study of minerals for centuries. Not all crystals form in water; some can form in an element called carbon.
But regardless of the environment, all crystals are formed in the same way: the atoms come together and become a uniform cluster. This process can take anywhere from a few days to maybe a thousand years. Natural crystals that come from Earth form in the same way, more than a million years ago within the Earth's crust when the liquid consolidates and the temperature cools. Other crystals form when liquid crosses crevices and dispenses minerals to the crevices. It's also possible to grow your own crystals at home or in a laboratory, but you need to have a starting point for crystals to form.
Some mineral crystals form when pressurized molten carbon cools rapidly. Even if a crystal grows at a rate of one tenth of an inch per day, about 100 layers of molecules must be deposited per second on the surface of the crystal. When many different crystals grow together, they form a kind of molten mass with hardly any crystal formation. You can often see the characteristic symmetry of a crystal with the naked eye, but if the crystal is very small, a magnifying glass or microscope is a convenient instrument.