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Materials Science: Definition & Material Classification

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  • 0:00 Definition of…
  • 0:48 Materials Science and…
  • 1:29 Classification of Materials
  • 3:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

What is materials science and how do materials scientists classify the many materials that surround us in our daily lives? This lesson answers these questions and explores this exciting area of science and engineering.

Definition of Materials Science

Take a look around you. All the products that surround you in your home, school, or workplace are made of one material or another. We're surrounded by an incredible array of different materials every single day. Unless the thing you're looking at happens to be natural, like a tree or a flower, someone had to decide what material to make it from. Those people probably use some aspect of materials science to make that choice.

Materials science is a part of engineering that involves discovering and designing new materials and analyzing their properties and structure. That information can then be used to make design choices. We can also use our knowledge to break materials apart and recombine them in creative ways. For example, did you know that nylon is created from oil? That kind of thing wouldn't be possible without materials science.

Materials Science and Technology

Materials science is important for the development of technology and has been or thousands of years. Different materials have different strengths and weaknesses and are better for different purposes. Since technology is the process of using our scientific knowledge to create devices and objects that benefit humans, understanding materials is an important step in this process.

The more you understand the materials that you have choose from, the better choices you will make. Materials studied in materials science can be anything from simple materials like wood, to modern man-made materials like plastic, to the very latest materials that involve nanotechnology and biotechnology. In fact, man-made materials are considered to be technology in and of themselves.

Classification of Materials

Part of materials science involves classifying materials: putting them into groups. Materials are generally split into four main groups: metals, polymers, ceramics, and composites. Let's discuss each of them in turn.

Metals are materials like iron, steel, nickel, and copper. They're found on the left of the periodic table of chemistry. They tend to be shiny, strong, and usually require high temperatures to melt. They can be further split into ferrous metals and alloys and nonferrous metals and alloys. Ferrous metals are anything that has some iron content. So this includes iron itself, carbon steels, stainless steels, and other iron alloys (mixtures). Nonferrous metals include aluminum, copper, and nickel, among others. Metals are generally used when strength is particularly important and when the material also needs to be fairly thin.

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