Ceramic precursors are the chemical constituents of ceramic materials in a form in which they can be manipulated and shaped prior to processing to form a dense body. Generally these precursors are finely ground crystalline materials such as oxides or clays. Recently, however, much effort has focused on preparing precursors by chemical rather than mechanical means. The goal is to prepare purer, more homogeneous, and more reactive precursors than mixed crystalline powders. A wide variety of chemical processes have been devised to grow ceramic precursors, including powders formed by precipitation reactions, gels formed by hydrolysis and condensation reactions, and gas phase pyrolysis, to name just a few. Due to the random nature of the growth processes, these precursors often have structures wholly unlike their mechanically derived counterparts on both an atomic and a “macromolecular” scale. Random growth and structure and the effect of these structures on the subsequent processing of ceramics is an area of growing interest.
Random structures are inherently more difficult to describe and study than are the ordered, periodic structures of crystals. With the exception of a few special cases, such as random walk polymers, little of a quantitative nature could be said about them until the development of fractal geometry and the accompanying realization that the structures which result from many random growth processes are, in fact, fractal.