Cubic crystal system

A rock containing three crystals of pyrite (FeS2). The crystal structure of pyrite is primitive cubic, and this is reflected in the cubic symmetry of its natural crystal facets.
A network model of a primitive cubic system
The primitive and cubic close-packed (also known as face-centered cubic) unit cells

In crystallography, the cubic (or isometric) crystal system is a crystal system where the unit cell is in the shape of a cube. This is one of the most common and simplest shapes found in crystals and minerals.

There are three main varieties of these crystals:

  • Primitive cubic (abbreviated cP[1] and alternatively called simple cubic)
  • Body-centered cubic (abbreviated cI[1] or bcc)
  • Face-centered cubic (abbreviated cF[1] or fcc, and alternatively called cubic close-packed or ccp)

Each is subdivided into other variants listed below. Note that although the unit cell in these crystals is conventionally taken to be a cube, the primitive unit cell often is not.

Bravais lattices

The three Bravais lattices in the cubic crystal system are:

Bravais lattice Primitive
Pearson symbol cP cI cF
Unit cell Cubic.svg Cubic-body-centered.svg Cubic-face-centered.svg

The primitive cubic system (cP) consists of one lattice point on each corner of the cube. Each atom at a lattice point is then shared equally between eight adjacent cubes, and the unit cell therefore contains in total one atom (​18 × 8).
The body-centered cubic system (cI) has one lattice point in the center of the unit cell in addition to the eight corner points. It has a net total of 2 lattice points per unit cell (​18 × 8 + 1).
The face-centered cubic system (cF) has lattice points on the faces of the cube, that each gives exactly one half contribution, in addition to the corner lattice points, giving a total of 4 lattice points per unit cell (​18 × 8 from the corners plus ​12 × 6 from the faces). Each sphere in a cF lattice has coordination number 12. Coordination number is the number of nearest neighbours of a central atom in the structure.

The face-centered cubic system is closely related to the hexagonal close packed (hcp) system, where two systems differ only in the relative placements of their hexagonal layers. The [111] plane of a face-centered cubic system is a hexagonal grid.

Attempting to create a C-centered cubic crystal system (i.e., putting an extra lattice point in the center of each horizontal face) would result in a simple tetragonal Bravais lattice.