The Origin of Materials in Common Objects

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.

Learn about the material resources used in everyday objects, and from where those materials were originally collected. Then see how much knowledge you've collected by taking a quiz.

What are Material Resources?

Each morning you leave your home, closing your oak front door. You walk down a gravel driveway, get into a metallic car, grab the plastic steering wheel and drive down the tarmac road, your rubber tires rotating 1000 times every minute. What do all these actions have in common? They all involve material resources. Material resources are natural materials that are used for productive human purposes, in ways that give them financial value.

Metal Car Body
Metal Car Body

These days our lives are completely surrounded by artificial objects. While we still have trees, earth, and rain, most of the things we interact with on a daily basis are made by humans. But humans can't make things out of thin air - instead, we make things from the earth's material resources.

Material resources include things like wood from trees, plastics made from chemicals, metals dug out of the earth, and rubber taken from rubber trees. Today we're going to talk about some common everyday objects, and trace them back to the material resources that they are made of.

Materials in Common Objects

These days, humans don't generally eat with their hands, and instead prefer to use utensils. If you live in the western world, those utensils are probably knives, forks, and spoons, which are usually made out of metals that come from rocks in the ground. Metals found on Earth were originally formed in distant stars millions of years ago and then baked into our planet when it formed. Since then, we humans have learned how to extract them, purify them, and use high temperatures to shape them into our utensils.

Metal Utensils
Metal Utensils

Most human homes are full of different kinds of furniture. That furniture includes things like tables, chairs, shelves, wardrobes, cabinets, and TV tables. And very often, these pieces of furniture are made out of wood like oak or pine. But even furniture that is made out of particleboard comes from the same general source. We have chopped down and used trees for our own purposes for tens of thousands of years, and will probably continue to do so for some time to come.

Wooden Logs
Wooden Logs

While they might be a recent invention, plastics are everywhere in our world. We have beakers, soda bottles, trash cans, and shower curtains, as well as the shells of electronics like printers and food processors. Plastics are synthetic and organic materials that can be bent and molded easily. They're usually made of long-chain molecules called polymers that humans have cleverly learned how to create from materials found in the natural world. There are lots of types of plastics, including polyester, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, and polyethylene, among others. More common names include vinyl, PVC, and Styrofoam.

Plastic Food Processor
Plastic Food Processor

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