Materials Science: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Mary Beth Burns

Mary Beth has taught 1st, 4th and 5th grade and has a specialist degree in Educational Leadership. She is currently an assistant principal.

There are so many objects in this world, but have you ever taken the time to sit down and think deeply about any of them? This is a simple form of materials science. Come and learn about what materials science is, why it is important, and its role in history.

What is Materials Science?

Think about all of the different stuff you use during the day, like your toothbrush, your clothes, your pillow ... you use a lot of stuff, right? Well, materials science is all about the study of 'stuff'! Who knew there was such a thing?

Sometimes, materials scientists study stuff that already exists, while other times they create new stuff! Materials science takes pieces of other types of science, like physics, chemistry and engineering, to study stuff. In scientific terms, we can say solids instead of stuff. Solids are objects that are not liquids or gases. Instead, solids are objects that are able to take a definite and stable shape, like a pencil or a cup.

Materials scientists looks at four different elements of solids:

  • Structure: the different parts of the solid
  • Processing: how the solid is made; what jobs need to be done to make the solid
  • Properties: what the solid should be like to do its job (i.e., Should it be electric? Should it be magnetic?)
  • Performance: how the solid works; how you can make the solid even better

Elements of solids

After looking at these four elements, the materials scientists are able to identify the characterization of the solid. Characterization is looking at the different relationships among structure, processing, properties and performance. This is the most important part of materials science.

Think about it like this - we characterize people all the time. You, for example, look, act, walk and talk a certain way. All of these different elements about you make you who you are. Think about characterization as a way that materials scientists explain how the different elements make the solid what it is.

Why is Materials Science Important?

How crazy would it be if blankets were made of glass? Or if your shoes were made of ceramic? (That's what your toilet is made of!) What if cars were made out of wood, like horse and buggies from long ago? Materials science helps us to understand what materials are best for certain objects. As the world is in an age when technology is constantly changing and getting better, materials science is that much more important. Materials scientists help to educate us in order to make new technologies the best that they can be.

Materials scientists hard at work.

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