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Ten Things Every Engineer Should Know About Materials Science

1 The Menu of Materials

1.1: Six Categories of Engineering Materials


So for the first of the Ten Things That Every Engineer Should Know about Material Science, were here,
appropriately enough, in the teaching kitchen of the Davis Food Co-Op, here in Davis, California. And while
were going to spare you our culinary adventure today, we do want to talk about the menu of materials that are
available that we should all be familiar with in our everyday life around our kitchen, but also the same menu of
materials that are used to produce really all of the engineering systems for modern applications.
First of all, a metal pan. Well see that the first three categories that we talk about are informed by the three
types of primary chemical bonding, from freshman chemistry.
Metallic bonding. Those electrons that are providing the glue, holding together individual atomic cores, they
define the nature of this material. We recognize this readily as a metal pan. Its a metal pan, first of all, because
we cant see through it. Those electrons that are providing the metallic bonding are reflecting any photons, light
rays, from the environment. It gives us that characteristic shiny luster. Also, the materials electrically
conductive. Those bonding electrons are mobile, and therefore, think of another common item around any
household, any office, of course is a power cord. And its the metal thats providing the conductivity and a
polymer sheathing that is providing the safety insulation.
Well, the second category then we might talk about is the covalent bond. We talked about polymers; heres the
simple polymer or plastic spatula around the kitchen, very ductile, good structural integrity, but also extremely
convenient, light weight, and so on. Thats a case in which the individual atoms, lets say typical hydrocarbon,
the carbon atoms and the carbon-to-hydrogen bonding is covalent in nature. That means that the electrons are
being shared between those two adjacent atoms. So in that case the electrons are spoken for. So, again,
electrically insulating as opposed to the metal, which is electrically conductive.
So the third category would be the ionic bond, which characterizes our third category, the ceramic materials.
These ceramics, a typical ceramic plate wed have around the kitchen or the home, a common ceramic coffee
mug and so on, would be characteristic of another form of bonding in which the electrons are transferred from
a metallic cation to a negative anion, very often oxygen. So this oxide ceramic would be characteristic of a
Coulombic forces, holding those two charged species, cation and anion, together. Another characteristic of that
is, again, the electrons are spoken for, therefore this material is electrically insulating. So three categories
metallic, polymeric, ceramicbased on the three types of chemical bondingmetallic, covalent, and ionic.
But I have an additional vessel here, in addition to the ceramic coffee cup. I have a drinking glass, and we of
course call it a glass. I also call these spectacles around on my head glasses, and these are of course
optically transparent. This is going to be a fourth category of structural materials, and I include it in with the
ceramics in a chapter in the associated textbook. In this case, its optically transparent again because of the
nature of the ionic bonding, in this case between silicon atoms, or silicon ions, and oxygen ionsa common
silicate material. In mineral form, this could be a silicate ceramic that would go into making the pottery dish. But
the key distinction between the ceramic and the glass materialchemically comparable, the same type of ionic
bondingbut in the case of the glass, random atomic arrangement of ions in that atomic scale structure, and
the ceramic tends to be a crystalline material with a regular and repeating order to that arrangement. So now
were up to four categories. We have the three basic ones based on the types of bonding, and then an
additional subset for glass materials.
But lets look at a fifth category of structural materials now, and that would be these small stacking chairs over
here, which are familiar to us and have been for the last several decades, since fiberglass was developed after
World War Two. In this case, we have a material I like to call a structural material thats the best of both worlds.
We have the ductility of the polymer, which we saw in that spatula, but its been given a good deal more
structural integrity by the addition of microscopic scale glass fibers like the glass in that drinking glass, but with
a much smaller scale. Again, small fibers just a few microns in diameter. And that provides a substantially
higher strength and stiffness to the material. So, again, the best of both worlds, combining the strength and
stiffness of the glass reinforcing phase, and the ductility of the polymeric matrix. So that gives us five structural
categories that are adequate for most of our engineering designs.
Copyright 2015 The Regents of the University of California

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Ten Things Every Engineer Should Know About Materials Science

1 The Menu of Materials

But as a practical matter, were living in a technological age thats not driven so much by structural
considerations but by the nature of electronic behavior. And so I find it useful to break out a sixth category
based on, if you will, the brain in my laptop here. Of course, we all are dependent upon these machines these
days. In this case its a very small piece of silicon in which a microscopic-scale, in some cases submicroscopicscale circuit pattern has been printed on that to, again, provide the brain of this device that very often drives
our own brain in well-known ways.
So, again, six categories now that we use as our menu throughout our understanding and growing
understanding of the nature of material science. The three categories based on the three primary bonding
typesmetals, polymers, ceramicsand the additional category of glass with the ceramic-like material that is
non-crystalline in nature, and then the best of both worlds composite material, the fiberglass, and then finally
the semiconductor in which we have a material in which we can control the conductivity in a very powerful way
in microcircuits.

Copyright 2015 The Regents of the University of California

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