What is an Alloy? - Definition & Examples

What is an Alloy? - Definition & Examples
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  • 0:04 Everyday Metals
  • 0:30 Advantages of Alloys
  • 1:09 Types of Alloys
  • 1:44 How to Make an Alloy
  • 2:20 Alloy Composition Calculations
  • 3:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nick Rogers
Alloys are mixtures of metal with other metals or non-metals. This process gives the material more desirable properties, such as increased hardness and lower melting points.

Everyday Metals

You probably see metal every day, but you may not realize that 90% of the metal that you encounter is actually what we call an alloy. An alloy is a mixture of metal with a second metal or other non-metal material. Airplanes, bicycles, and cooking pots are all usually made of different types of alloys. Some popular alloys include brass, solder metal, pewter, and sterling silver.

Advantages of Alloys

Mixing metals together or with non-metals offers many advantages. These combination materials can have enhanced hardness, lower melting points, and better tensile strength. Since pure metals have a high melting point, they tend to be very soft. Pure gold tends to be very malleable and is easily bent with a small amount of heat applied. This is the reason why most gold jewelry is actually an alloy.

Metals tend to be very reactive and have high melting points. Iron, for example, is very strong but reacts with moisture in the air and can rust very easily. Casting iron as an alloy can help to increase its inertness and prevent this.

Types of Alloys

There are two main types of alloys. These are called substitution alloys and interstitial alloys.

In substitution alloys, the atoms of the original metal are literally replaced with atoms that have roughly the same size from another material. Brass, for example, is an example of a substitution alloy of copper and zinc.

Interstitial alloys, on the other hand, mix together atoms that have very different sizes. Atoms are added to the original metal that are much smaller. For example, steel is created by adding a small number of carbon atoms in between the larger atoms in iron.

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