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We propose and analyze an effective free energy describing the physics of disclination defects in particle arrays constrained to move on an arbitrary two-dimensional surface. At finite temperature the physics of interacting disclinations is mapped to a Laplacian Sine-Gordon Hamiltonian suitable for numerical simulations. We then specialize to the case of a spherical crystal at zero temperature. The ground state is analyzed as a function of the ratio of the defect core energy to the Young's modulus. We argue that the core energy contribution becomes less and less important in the limit R >> a, where R is the radius of the sphere and a is the particle spacing. For large core energies there are twelve disclinations forming an icosahedron. For intermediate core energies unusual finite-length grain boundaries are preferred. The complicated regime of small core energies, appropriate to the limit R/a goes to infinity, is also addressed. Finally we discuss the application of our results to the classic Thomson problem of finding the ground state of electrons distributed on a two-sphere.

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