Department of the Environment and Energy

Area: Contamination Control

Applications of Radiation to Environmental Studies


Crystallography is the science that studies crystal structures at a microscopic level. In scientific research, when attempting to study the structure of liquid, solid and gas substances, it is required to crystalize them, therefore the importance of this science.

Crystallography has applications in several disciplines such as electronics, chemistry, physics, biology, medicine and mineralogy, just to mention a few.

Electronics, for instance, was born from transistors fabricated with Silicon and Germanium monocrystals. All computers have small crystals which are indispensable for their function.

Worldwide there is a big production of small-sized crystals for their application in electronics. Growing crystals is a modern technical need.

Naica Crystals

Cimav has a team of scientists focused on Crystallography and one of their main projects is related to the investigation of the Naica crystals.

The Naica mine is located in the municipality of Saucillo, Chihuahua. This Lead, Zinc and Silver mine has caves with gigantic crystals at two levels: one at 120 and another at 300 meters deep.

The same geological process that intervened in mineralization also influenced the formation of the caves where the Naica crystals are located (a phenomenon called “plutonic” magma). Around one million years ago these crystals started forming, they are composed by calcium sulfate di-hydrate, and due to their unique characteristics, they are now of interest to the international scientific community.
Scientists at Cimav aim at studying the influence of the environment on the Naica crystals for promoting to preserve them.

These specialists conducted research in the cave located 120 meters deep since the crystals there show impurities such as darkening. The study was focused on determining whether the change of color was due to the human presence (since the area was open to the general public) or due to a geological process.

The first results of the research determined that the dark color of the crystals was due to a natural process where only the environment intervened. The understanding of these impurities also allows learning about crystal growth.

Knowing the crystal growth process is part of the worldwide research to solve technological and health problems, for instance.


Dra. María Elena Montero
Tel. +52 (614) 439 1123
The Giant Naica Crystals

They are unique in the world because they may be 11 meters long and more than one meter of diameter.

The cave where they are located is 300 meters deep; it is 80 meters long and a temperature between 50 and 60 degrees Celsius.

Researchers all over the world conduct relevant projects on these crystals due to their scientific relevance.

Lead-free Ferroelectric Materials

In Cimav this team of scientists studies ferroelectric materials due to their wide range of applications in the electric, electronics, automobile and aeronautics industries, to mention a few.

The specialists center their research on lead-free ferroelectric materials with the objective of optimizing and improving their properties without polluting the environment. In this area the projects are conducted through the technique called X-ray absorption fine structure.

It is worth mentioning that ferroelectric materials have the property that they remain polarized in the desired direction by after removing an external electric field.

For instance in the automobile industry ferroelectric materials have applications in sensors for airbag activation and electronic starting (no spark plugs). In the electronics industry they are used among other things to store information in computer memories.

Radioisotope Measurements

Specialists in Cimav develop specific lines of research on radioisotopes (radioactivity measures) in water, soil, air, sediments and industrial waste. The projects are conducted under radioisotope measurement techniques of gamma-ray and alpha-ray spectroscopy.

To conduct research in this area, scientists use the highly-specialized laboratories in Cimav and international synchrotrons.

Due to their characteristics the synchrotron has a great capacity for analysis that the most potent microscopes have not reached. Due to the international prestige, this team of researchers has access to the most important synchrotrons in the world.

The team of Application of Radiation to Environmental Studies publishes in high-impact indexed journals; it trains high academic level human resources and conduct joint projects with national and international universities.