How is Crystal Oscillator implemented in digital circuit to generate clock frequency? What part of crystal oscillator makes the clock signal? I know the fact that crystals has its resonating frequency, can someone explain what happens to the voltage at one end and the other end of crystal?


2 Answers 2


First, consider what crystal component really is: a capacitor with a fancy material between its plates. This should give you an insight at what happens to voltage/current across a crystal component.

The insulation material selected for this "crystal" capacitor exhibits piezoelectric properties (as other answer already expanded): it will mechanically deform a little when electrical field is applied; it can also produce some electrical field when elastic deformation is relieved. This particular property makes it behave similarly to an inductor. This observation allows us to come with an equivalent circuit of a crystal (a rather simple LC bandpass filter):

Crystal oscillator equivalent circuit

Then, to the bit of oscillator theory: to create oscillation you, commonly, need a filter and a high gain amplifier, feeding each other. During the oscillator start up, amplifier will produce some wide bandwidth thermal noise, filter will pass through only the desired frequency, this particular frequency will be further amplified by the amplifier until it's much higher power than noise, and the loop will close producing a sustained oscillation. Clearly, filter can be of any variety, crystals being the most convenient and stable ones (but you can easily substitute the crystal with a "wound" LC circuit or electromechanical tuning fork or any other filtering contraption of sort).

A bit of update on similarities between inductors and piezoelectric materials

As stated above, electric field applies a force to the piezoelectric material. The force exists, because matter inside the piezoelectric crystal is arranged in the form of tiny electric dipoles (for a bit of reference, the most common "dipole" molecule around is water, which acquires a lot of interesting properties because of this).

However, if there were only external electrostatic forces present, piezoelectric crystal will fall apart - evidently, some force is needed to counterbalance the electrostatic force and return the crystal to "normal" state when it is removed (thus, enabling its use in oscillators). This is a so called "elastic force" - force arising from (quantum) electrodynamic interactions between electrons and nuclei of the matter. That's the force responsible for preventing us from falling through the floor.

Not surprisingly, there exist 2 other types of oscillators which rely on elastic forces to provide the "push back" against the externally applied force:

  1. Mechanical spring pendulum - external mechanical force is balanced by the elastic forces in the spring material.
  2. Inductors - Lorentz force acting upon the conductor is counterbalanced (yet again) by the elastic forces of the wire. After all, if not for the elastic forces the electrons will simply fly away from the conductor, and no inductance will be observed.

That last effect is not readily observable in small signal electronics (copper is a fairly strong material and the currents are tiny) but becomes the dominant factor when currents start climbing into the 100A ranges and above - wires would jump all around the floor and solenoids will explode violently when Lorentz force suddenly overcomes the elastic forces.

To summarize:

In piezoelectric crystal oscillator:

Step 1: external field applies a force to dipole nano-sites inside the crystal affecting the electron configuration inside the crystalline structure, creating elastic deformation (and thus elastic counter force).

Step 2: when external field is removed, elastic forces restore the electron configuration to its "normal" state. As charge redistribution is involved, we observe a voltage across a crystal of a nature, rather similar to the "back emf" of inductors.

For comparison, in inductor based oscillator:

Step 1: external field invokes current in the inductor (because, unlike the piezoelectric crystal, electrons in conductors have a very high mobility and won't stick to specific sites inside the crystal). Current results in Lorentz force which deforms the electron configuration inside the material and creates elastic deformation (and thus elastic counter force, just like in the piezoelectric case).

Step 2: when external field is removed, we have exactly the same situation we had in the piezoelectric case - electron configuration is restored to normal, charge is being redistributed and "back emf" created. However, as we are dealing with highly mobile charge carriers in this case, it will be manifested in form of current, rather than voltage spike.

With the right choice of parameters, the math will look rather similar in both cases.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "It will mechanically deform a little when electrical field is applied; it can also produce some electrical field when elastic deformation is relieved. This particular property makes it behave similarly to an inductor." - Can you explain how does the mechanical strain and stress vs electric field generation process makes the crystall look like an Inductor? \$\endgroup\$
    – dr3patel
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 19:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I will ask you an opposite question: when we say that magnetic field energy is stored in the inductor, what exactly do we mean? What forces are at work to create the potential energy? What will happen if inductor is mechanically weak, but the current is strong (hint: Lorentz force)? \$\endgroup\$
    – oakad
    Commented Mar 2, 2014 at 23:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ megnetic energy is store in inductor when current is increased in the inductor, the more current strengthens the megnetic field around it but changing the current induces emf by lenz law. As emf is generated in opposite direction it opposes the current to get back to its original current. plz correct me if i am wrong. I don't know what happens if the inductor is mechanically weak. help! \$\endgroup\$
    – dr3patel
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 3:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok, edited the answer to add more info. \$\endgroup\$
    – oakad
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 3:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Refering to your oscillator theory: How do you get like 3-10 Ghz frequency generation. The maxium crystal oscillator I have seen is 480 Mhz. Are they any osicllators exist that can be used to filter frequency ranging from 3-10Ghz after the amplification stage? Usually I have heard the PLLs are capable of generating this high frequencies using inbuilt VCXO to filter high frequencies (GHz range) but what are those VCXOs made of? Crystals? \$\endgroup\$
    – dr3patel
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 0:22

can someone explain what happens to the voltage at one end and the other end of crystal?

Yes, the author(s) of the relevant Wikipedia articles made an attempt at explaining what happens.

enter image description here A piezoelectric disk generates a voltage when deformed

A crystal oscillator is an electronic oscillator circuit that uses the mechanical resonance of a vibrating crystal of piezoelectric material to create an electrical signal with a very precise frequency.


Piezoelectricity is the electric charge that accumulates in certain solid materials (such as crystals, certain ceramics, and biological matter such as bone, DNA and various proteins) in response to applied mechanical stress


The piezoelectric effect is understood as the linear electromechanical interaction between the mechanical and the electrical state in crystalline materials with no inversion symmetry.[4] The piezoelectric effect is a reversible process in that materials exhibiting the direct piezoelectric effect (the internal generation of electrical charge resulting from an applied mechanical force) also exhibit the reverse piezoelectric effect (the internal generation of a mechanical strain resulting from an applied electrical field).



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