Chapter 1. Introduction

Home ] Up ] [ Chapter 1. Introduction ] Chapter 2. Atomic Structure and Bonding ] Chapter 3. Structure of Crystals ] Chapter 4.  Imperfections ] Chapter 5. Diffusion ] Chapter 6. Mechanical Properties of Metals ] Chapter 7. Dislocations and Strengthening Mechanisms ] Chapter 8. Failure ] Chapter 9. Phase Diagrams ] Chapter 10: Phase Transformations in Metals ] Chapter 11. Thermal Processing of Metal Alloys ] Chapter 13. Ceramics - Structures and Properties ] Chapter 14. Ceramics - Applications and Processing ] Chapter 15. Polymer Structures ] Chapter 16. Polymers. Characteristics, Applications and Processing ] Chapter 17. Composites ] Chapter 19. Electrical Properties ]


Chapter 1. Introduction

1 .1 Historical Perspective

Materials are so important in the development of civilization that we associate Ages with them. In the origin of human life on Earth, the Stone Age, people used only natural materials, like stone, clay, skins, and wood. When people found copper and how to make it harder by alloying, the Bronze Age started about 3000 BC. The use of iron and steel, a stronger material that gave advantage in wars started at about 1200 BC. The next big step was the discovery of a cheap process to make steel around 1850, which enabled the railroads and the building of the modern infrastructure of the industrial world.

1.2 Materials Science and Engineering

Understanding of how materials behave like they do, and why they differ in properties was only possible with the atomistic understanding allowed by quantum mechanics, that first explained atoms and then solids starting in the 1930s. The combination of physics, chemistry, and the focus on the relationship between the properties of a material and its microstructure is the domain of Materials Science. The development of this science allowed designing materials and provided a knowledge base for the engineering applications (Materials Engineering).


  • At the atomic level: arrangement of atoms in different ways. (Gives different properties for graphite than diamond both forms of carbon.)
  • At the microscopic level: arrangement of small grains of material that can be identified by microscopy. (Gives different optical properties to transparent vs. frosted glass.)

Properties are the way the material responds to the environment. For instance, the mechanical, electrical and magnetic properties are the responses to mechanical, electrical and magnetic forces, respectively. Other important properties are thermal (transmission of heat, heat capacity), optical (absorption, transmission and scattering of light), and the chemical stability in contact with the environment (like corrosion resistance).

Processing of materials is the application of heat (heat treatment), mechanical forces, etc. to affect their microstructure and, therefore, their properties.

1.3 Why Study Materials Science and Engineering?

  • To be able to select a material for a given use based on considerations of cost and performance.
  • To understand the limits of materials and the change of their properties with use.
  • To be able to create a new material that will have some desirable properties.

All engineering disciplines need to know about materials. Even the most "immaterial", like software or system engineering depend on the development of new materials, which in turn alter the economics, like software-hardware trade-offs. Increasing applications of system engineering are in materials manufacturing (industrial engineering) and complex environmental systems.

1.4 Classification of Materials

Like many other things, materials are classified in groups, so that our brain can handle the complexity. One could classify them according to structure, or properties, or use. The one that we will use is according to the way the atoms are bound together:

Metals: valence electrons are detached from atoms, and spread in an 'electron sea' that "glues" the ions together. Metals are usually strong, conduct electricity and heat well and are opaque to light (shiny if polished). Examples: aluminum, steel, brass, gold.

Semiconductors: the bonding is covalent (electrons are shared between atoms). Their electrical properties depend extremely strongly on minute proportions of contaminants. They are opaque to visible light but transparent to the infrared. Examples: Si, Ge, GaAs.

Ceramics: atoms behave mostly like either positive or negative ions, and are bound by Coulomb forces between them. They are usually combinations of metals or semiconductors with oxygen, nitrogen or carbon (oxides, nitrides, and carbides). Examples: glass, porcelain, many minerals.

Polymers: are bound by covalent forces and also by weak van der Waals forces, and usually based on H, C and other non-metallic elements. They decompose at moderate temperatures (100 – 400 C), and are lightweight. Other properties vary greatly. Examples: plastics (nylon, Teflon, polyester) and rubber.

Other categories are not based on bonding. A particular microstructure identifies composites, made of different materials in intimate contact (example: fiberglass, concrete, wood) to achieve specific properties. Biomaterials can be any type of material that is biocompatible and used, for instance, to replace human body parts.

1.5 Advanced Materials

Materials used in "High-Tec" applications, usually designed for maximum performance, and normally expensive. Examples are titanium alloys for supersonic airplanes, magnetic alloys for computer disks, special ceramics for the heat shield of the space shuttle, etc.

1.6 Modern Material's Needs

  • Engine efficiency increases at high temperatures: requires high temperature structural materials
  • Use of nuclear energy requires solving problem with residues, or advances in nuclear waste processing.
  • Hypersonic flight requires materials that are light, strong and resist high temperatures.
  • Optical communications require optical fibers that absorb light negligibly.
  • Civil construction – materials for unbreakable windows.
  • Structures: materials that are strong like metals and resist corrosion like plastics.