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Polymorphism vs. Allotropy: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Published on January 3, 2024
Polymorphism refers to variations in form within a species under different conditions, while allotropy refers to different physical forms of the same element.
Polymorphism vs. Allotropy

Key Differences

Polymorphism refers to the ability of a substance to exist in more than one form or crystal structure. This phenomenon is observed in various materials, including crystals and molecules. On the other hand, Allotropy specifically pertains to elements, describing the existence of two or more different forms of the same element in the same physical state. These forms differ in their physical and sometimes chemical properties.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Jan 03, 2024
Polymorphism is a term widely used in many fields, including biology, where it indicates the occurrence of different types or forms of species. In contrast, Allotropy is a term used exclusively in chemistry and physics, referring to the different structural modifications of an element. The allotropes of an element have different molecular arrangements but are composed of the same type of atoms.
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Jan 03, 2024
Polymorphism can be observed in compounds where the atoms or molecules can be packed in different ways, leading to different physical properties. Allotropy, in comparison, is a property exclusive to chemical elements, not compounds, and results in different physical forms like graphite and diamond for carbon.
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In Polymorphism, the changes in structure often lead to different melting points, solubilities, and densities. Allotropy also results in variations in such physical properties, but these changes are a result of different bonding arrangements between the atoms of the same element.
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In essence, Polymorphism is about the same compound exhibiting different structures, while Allotropy is about the same element existing in different forms. Both phenomena showcase nature's versatility in the microscopic world of atoms and molecules.
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Comparison Chart

Definition

Variation in form within a species or compound
Different physical forms of the same element
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Scope

Broad, applicable in biology and chemistry
Specific to chemistry and physics
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Occurrence

In compounds and species
In elements only
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Structural Change

Different molecular packings
Different atomic arrangements
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Example

Quartz and cristobalite (SiO2)
Diamond and graphite (Carbon)
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Polymorphism and Allotropy Definitions

Polymorphism

Different crystal forms of the same chemical substance.
The polymorphism of calcium carbonate results in both calcite and aragonite.
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Allotropy

Different structural forms of the same element in the same physical state.
Carbon exhibits allotropy, existing as both diamond and graphite.
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Polymorphism

Genetic variation within a population, upon which natural selection operates.
Blood types are an example of polymorphism in human genetics.
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Allotropy

The phenomenon of an element existing in two or more different forms.
Oxygen's allotropy includes both O2 and ozone (O3).
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Polymorphism

In materials science, the ability of a solid material to exist in more than one form or crystal structure.
Iron shows polymorphism, existing in different crystalline forms at various temperatures.
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Allotropy

Variation in physical and chemical properties of an element due to different atomic arrangements.
The allotropy of sulfur results in different molecular structures like rhombic and monoclinic sulfur.
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Polymorphism

Different forms of the same species in biology.
The polymorphism in butterflies results in varied wing patterns.
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Allotropy

The existence of an element in forms with different molecular structures in the same physical state.
Phosphorus shows allotropy, existing as white, red, and black phosphorus.
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Polymorphism

The ability of a programming language to process objects differently based on their data type or class.
In programming, polymorphism allows the same function to process different types of objects.
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Allotropy

Distinct forms of an element, identifiable by differences in physical properties.
Tin's allotropy causes it to change from white tin to gray tin under cold temperatures.
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Polymorphism

(Biology) The occurrence of more than one form, as several alleles of a particular gene or winged and wingless forms of the same species.
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Allotropy

The existence of two or more crystalline or molecular structural forms of an element that have different chemical or physical attributes.
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Polymorphism

(Chemistry) Crystallization of a compound in at least two distinct forms. Also called pleomorphism.
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Allotropy

(chemistry) A property, exhibited by some elements, of existing in multiple forms with different atomic structures.
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Polymorphism

The ability to assume different forms or shapes.
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Allotropy

The phenomenon of an element existing in two or more physical forms
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Polymorphism

(biology) The coexistence, in the same locality, of two or more distinct forms independent of sex, not connected by intermediate gradations, but produced from common parents.
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Polymorphism

(object-oriented programming) The feature pertaining to the dynamic treatment of data elements based on their type, allowing for an instance of a method to have several definitions. en
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Polymorphism

The property of certain typed formal systems of allowing for the use of type variables and binders/quantifiers over those type variables; likewise, the property of certain expressions (within such typed formal systems) of making use of at least one such typed variable.
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Polymorphism

(crystallography) The ability of a solid material to exist in more than one form or crystal structure; pleomorphism.
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Polymorphism

(genetics) The regular existence of two or more different genotypes within a given species or population; also, variability of amino acid sequences within a gene's protein.
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Polymorphism

Same as Pleomorphism.
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Polymorphism

The capability of assuming different forms; the capability of widely varying in form.
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Polymorphism

(chemistry) the existence of different kinds of crystal of the same chemical compound
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Polymorphism

(biology) the existence of two or more forms of individuals within the same animal species (independent of sex differences)
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Repeatedly Asked Queries

How does polymorphism manifest in chemistry?

In chemistry, polymorphism is seen when a compound exists in more than one crystalline form.
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Can polymorphism occur in programming?

Yes, polymorphism in programming allows objects to be processed differently based on their type or class.
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What is polymorphism in biology?

Polymorphism in biology refers to the occurrence of different forms or types within a species.
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What is an example of polymorphism in nature?

An example is the different wing patterns in butterflies of the same species.
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What are common examples of allotropy?

Common examples include carbon existing as diamond and graphite.
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Is allotropy limited to certain elements?

Allotropy is observed in many elements, but not all elements exhibit this property.
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Can allotropy change the physical properties of an element?

Yes, different allotropes of an element can have distinct physical properties.
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Is polymorphism related to genetic variation?

Yes, polymorphism can refer to genetic variation within a population.
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Is polymorphism a rare occurrence?

No, polymorphism is quite common in both nature and materials.
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Does allotropy have practical applications?

Yes, understanding allotropy is crucial in materials science and chemistry for various applications.
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How does temperature affect allotropy?

Temperature changes can induce a transition between different allotropes of an element.
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Can polymorphism affect drug efficacy?

Yes, different polymorphic forms of a drug can have different solubilities and efficacies.
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Does polymorphism have evolutionary significance?

Yes, polymorphism can contribute to the evolutionary adaptation of species.
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What is allotropy in chemistry?

Allotropy is when an element exists in different structural forms in the same physical state.
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Is polymorphism important in genetics?

Yes, genetic polymorphism plays a key role in the diversity and adaptability of populations.
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Can polymorphism be induced artificially?

Yes, polymorphism can be induced in the lab under controlled conditions.
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Are all allotropes of an element stable?

No, some allotropes are more stable than others under certain conditions.
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Is polymorphism relevant in materials science?

Yes, understanding polymorphism is crucial for the development and application of various materials.
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How does allotropy affect the chemical behavior of an element?

While the chemical element remains the same, different allotropes can exhibit varied chemical behaviors.
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How does pressure affect allotropy?

Pressure can lead to the formation of different allotropes, as seen in the creation of synthetic diamonds.
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About Author
Shumaila Saeed
Written by
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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