Materials science

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For one of the various publications named for the subject, see Materials Science and Engineering (journal).
Depiction of two "Fullerene Nano-gears" with multiple teeth.

Materials science, also commonly known as materials science and engineering, is an interdisciplinary field which deals with the study of matter and their properties, as well as the discovery and design of new materials. This relatively new scientific field involves studying materials through the materials paradigm (synthesis, structure, properties and performance). It incorporates elements of physics and chemistry, and is at the forefront of nanoscience and nanotechnology research. In recent years, materials science has become more widely known as a specific field of science and engineering.

It is an important part of forensic engineering (the investigation of materials, products, structures or components that fail or do not operate or function as intended, causing personal injury or damage to property) and failure analysis, the latter being the key to understanding, for example, the cause of various aviation accidents. Many of the most pressing scientific problems that are faced today are due to the limitations of the materials that are available and, as a result, breakthroughs in this field are likely to have a significant impact on the future of technology.

History[edit]

The material of choice of a given era is often a defining point. Phrases such as Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Steel Age are great examples. Originally deriving from the manufacture of ceramics and its putative derivative metallurgy, materials science is one of the oldest forms of engineering and applied science. Modern materials science evolved directly from metallurgy, which itself evolved from mining and (likely) ceramics and the use of fire. A major breakthrough in the understanding of materials occurred in the late 19th century, when the American scientist Josiah Willard Gibbs demonstrated that the thermodynamic properties related to atomic structure in various phases are related to the physical properties of a material. Important elements of modern materials science are a product of the space race: the understanding and engineering of the metallic alloys, and silica and carbon materials, used in the construction of space vehicles enabling the exploration of space. Materials science has driven, and been driven by, the development of revolutionary technologies such as plastics, semiconductors, and biomaterials.

Before the 1960s (and in some cases decades after), many materials science departments were named metallurgy departments, reflecting the 19th and early 20th century emphasis on metals. The field has since broadened to include every class of materials, including ceramics, polymers, semiconductors, magnetic materials, medical implant materials, biological materials and nanomaterials (materiomics).

Fundamentals[edit]

The materials paradigm represented in the form of a tetrahedron.

A materials is defined as an object (most often in solid state) that is intended to be used for certain applications. The basis of materials science involves studying the structure of materials, and relating them to their properties. Once, a materials scientists knows about this structure-property correlation, he/she can then go on to study the relative performance of a material in a certain application. The major determinants of the structure of a material and thus of its properties are its constituent chemical elements and the way in which it has been processed into its final form. These characteristics, taken together and related through the laws of thermodynamics and kinetics, govern a material’s microstructure, and thus its properties.

Structure[edit]

As mentioned above, structure is one of the most important components of the field of materials science. Materials science examines the structure of materials from the atomic scale, all the way up to the macro scale. Characterization is the way materials scientists examine the structure of a materials. This involves techniques such as diffraction with x-rays, electrons, or neutrons, and various forms of spectroscopy and chemical analysis such as Raman spectroscopy, energy-dispersive spectroscopy (EDS), chromatography, thermal analysis, electron microscope analysis, etc.

Atomic Structure[edit]

This deals with the atoms of the materials, and how they are arranged to give molecules, crystals, etc. Much of the electronic, electrical and chemical properties of materials arise from this level of structure. The length scales involved are in angstroms (0.1 nm).

Nanostructure[edit]

Main article: Nanostructure

Nanostructure deals with objects and structures that are in the nanometers.

Microstructure[edit]

Main article: Microstructure

Microstructure is defined as the structure of a prepared surface or thin foil of material as revealed by a microscope above 25× magnification. The microstructure of a material (which can be broadly classified into metallic, polymeric, ceramic and composite) can strongly influence physical properties such as strength, toughness, ductility, hardness, corrosion resistance, high/low temperature behavior, wear resistance, and so on. Microstructure at scales smaller are often called nanostructures.

The manufacture of a perfect crystal of a material is physically impossible. For example, a crystalline material will contain defects such as precipitates, grain boundaries (Hall–Petch relationship), interstitial atoms, vacancies or substitutional atoms. The microstructure of materials reveals these defects, so that they can be studied.

Crystallography[edit]

Main article: Crystallography

Crystallography is the science that examines the arrangement of atoms in crystalline solids. Crystallography is a useful tool for materials scientists. In single crystals, the effects of the crystalline arrangement of atoms is often easy to see macroscopically, because the natural shapes of crystals reflect the atomic structure. In addition, physical properties are often controlled by crystalline defects. The understanding of crystal structures is an important prerequisite for understanding crystallographic defects. Mostly, materials do not occur as a single crystal, but in poly-crystalline form (i.e., as an aggregate of small crystals with different orientations). Because of this, the powder diffraction method, which uses diffraction patterns of polycrystalline samples with a large number of crystals, plays an important role in structural determination. Most materials have a crystalline structure. But, there are some important materials that do not exhibit regular crystal structure. Polymers display varying degrees of crystallinity, and many are completely non-crystalline. Glass as, some ceramics, and many natural materials are amorphous, not possessing any long-range order in their atomic arrangements. The study of polymers combines elements of chemical and statistical thermodynamics to give thermodynamic, as well as mechanical, descriptions of physical properties.

Bonding[edit]

To obtain a full understanding of the material structure and how it relates to its properties, the materials scientist must study how the different atoms, ions and molecules are arranged and bonded to each other. This involves the study and use of quantum chemistry or quantum physics. Solid-state physics, solid state chemistry and physical chemistry are also involved in the study of bonding and structure.

Properties[edit]

Materials exhibit a myriad of properties. The important properties of materials are as follows:

Synthesis and Processing[edit]

Synthesis and processing involves the creation of a materials with the desired microstructure. These can be achieved by many means. For example, the processing of metals requires a knowledge of physical metallurgy. Also, chemical and physical techniques are also used to synthesis other materials such as polymers, ceramics, thin films, etc.

Thermodynamics[edit]

Main article: Thermodynamics

The study of thermodynamics is fundamental to the study of materials science. It forms the foundation to treat general phenomena in materials science and engineering, including chemical reactions, magnetism, polarizability, and elasticity. It also helps in the understanding of phase diagrams and phase equilibrium.

Kinetics[edit]

Main article: Chemical Kinetics

Kinetics deals with how a materials changes with time due to application of a certain field. It involves the study of phase transformations, diffusion, crystals, among other things.

Materials in industry[edit]

Radical materials advances can drive the creation of new products or even new industries, but stable industries also employ materials scientists to make incremental improvements and troubleshoot issues with currently used materials. Industrial applications of materials science include materials design, cost-benefit tradeoffs in industrial production of materials, processing techniques (casting, rolling, welding, ion implantation, crystal growth, thin-film deposition, sintering, glassblowing, etc.), and analytical techniques (characterization techniques such as electron microscopy, x-ray diffraction, calorimetry, nuclear microscopy (HEFIB), Rutherford backscattering, neutron diffraction, small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), etc.).

Besides material characterization, the material scientist/engineer also deals with the extraction of materials and their conversion into useful forms. Thus ingot casting, foundry techniques, blast furnace extraction, and electrolytic extraction are all part of the required knowledge of a metallurgist/engineer. Often the presence, absence or variation of minute quantities of secondary elements and compounds in a bulk material will have a great impact on the final properties of the materials produced, for instance, steels are classified based on 1/10 and 1/100 weight percentages of the carbon and other alloying elements they contain. Thus, the extraction and purification techniques employed in the extraction of iron in the blast furnace will have an impact of the quality of steel that may be produced.

The overlap between physics and materials science has led to the offshoot field of materials physics, which is concerned with the physical properties of materials. The approach is generally more macroscopic and applied than in condensed matter physics. See important publications in materials physics for more details on this field of study.

Ceramics and glasses[edit]

Si3N4 ceramic bearing parts

Another application of the material sciences is the structures of glass and ceramics, typically associated with the most brittle materials. Bonding in ceramics and glasses use covalent and ionic-covalent types with SiO2 (silica or sand) as a fundamental building block. Ceramics are as soft as clay and as hard as stone and concrete. Usually, they are crystalline in form. Most glasses contain a metal oxide fused with silica. At high temperatures used to prepare glass, the material is a viscous liquid. The structure of glass forms into an amorphous state upon cooling. Windowpanes and eyeglasses are important examples. Fibers of glass are also available. Scratch resistant Corning Gorilla Glass is a well-known example of the application of materials science to drastically improve the properties of common components. Diamond and carbon in its graphite form are considered to be ceramics.

Engineering ceramics are known for their stiffness and stability under high temperatures, compression and electrical stress. Alumina, silicon carbide, and tungsten carbide are made from a fine powder of their constituents in a process of sintering with a binder. Hot pressing provides higher density material. Chemical vapor deposition can place a film of a ceramic on another material. Cermets are ceramic particles containing some metals. The wear resistance of tools is derived from cemented carbides with the metal phase of cobalt and nickel typically added to modify properties.

Composite materials[edit]

A 6 μm diameter carbon filament (running from bottom left to top right) siting atop the much larger human hair.

Filaments are commonly used for reinforcement in composite materials.

Another application of material science in industry is the making of composite materials. Composite materials are structured materials composed of two or more macroscopic phases. Applications range from structural elements such as steel-reinforced concrete, to the thermally insulative tiles which play a key and integral role in NASA's Space Shuttle thermal protection system which is used to protect the surface of the shuttle from the heat of re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. One example is reinforced Carbon-Carbon (RCC), the light gray material which withstands re-entry temperatures up to 1510 °C (2750 °F) and protects the Space Shuttle's wing leading edges and nose cap. RCC is a laminated composite material made from graphite rayon cloth and impregnated with a phenolic resin. After curing at high temperature in an autoclave, the laminate is pyrolized to convert the resin to carbon, impregnated with furfural alcohol in a vacuum chamber, and cured/pyrolized to convert the furfural alcohol to carbon. In order to provide oxidation resistance for reuse capability, the outer layers of the RCC are converted to silicon carbide.

Other examples can be seen in the "plastic" casings of television sets, cell-phones and so on. These plastic casings are usually a composite material made up of a thermoplastic matrix such as acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) in which calcium carbonate chalk, talc, glass fibers or carbon fibers have been added for added strength, bulk, or electrostatic dispersion. These additions may be referred to as reinforcing fibers, or dispersants, depending on their purpose.

Polymers[edit]

Microstructure of part of a DNA double helix biopolymer.

Polymers are also an important part of materials science. Polymers are the raw materials (the resins) used to make what we commonly call plastics. Plastics are really the final product, created after one or more polymers or additives have been added to a resin during processing, which is then shaped into a final form. Polymers which have been around, and which are in current widespread use, include polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC, polystyrene, nylons, polyesters, acrylics, polyurethanes, and polycarbonates. Plastics are generally classified as "commodity", "specialty" and "engineering" plastics.

PVC (polyvinyl-chloride) is widely used, inexpensive, and annual production quantities are large. It lends itself to an incredible array of applications, from artificial leather to electrical insulation and cabling, packaging and containers. Its fabrication and processing are simple and well-established. The versatility of PVC is due to the wide range of plasticisers and other additives that it accepts. The term "additives" in polymer science refers to the chemicals and compounds added to the polymer base to modify its material properties.

Polycarbonate would be normally considered an engineering plastic (other examples include PEEK, ABS). Engineering plastics are valued for their superior strengths and other special material properties. They are usually not used for disposable applications, unlike commodity plastics.

Specialty plastics are materials with unique characteristics, such as ultra-high strength, electrical conductivity, electro-fluorescence, high thermal stability, etc.

The dividing lines between the various types of plastics is not based on material but rather on their properties and applications. For instance, polyethylene (PE) is a cheap, low friction polymer commonly used to make disposable shopping bags and trash bags, and is considered a commodity plastic, whereas medium-density polyethylene (MDPE) is used for underground gas and water pipes, and another variety called Ultra-high Molecular Weight Polyethylene UHMWPE is an engineering plastic which is used extensively as the glide rails for industrial equipment and the low-friction socket in implanted hip joints.

Metal alloys[edit]

The study of metal alloys is a significant part of materials science. Of all the metallic alloys in use today, the alloys of iron (steel, stainless steel, cast iron, tool steel, alloy steels) make up the largest proportion both by quantity and commercial value. Iron alloyed with various proportions of carbon gives low, mid and high carbon steels. An iron carbon alloy is only considered steel if the carbon level is between 0.01% and 2.00%. For the steels, the hardness and tensile strength of the steel is related to the amount of carbon present, with increasing carbon levels also leading to lower ductility and toughness. Heat treatment processes such as quenching and tempering can significantly change these properties however. Cast Iron is defined as an iron–carbon alloy with more than 2.00% but less than 6.67% carbon. Stainless steel is defined as a regular steel alloy with greater than 10% by weight alloying content of Chromium. Nickel and Molybdenum are typically also found in stainless steels.

Other significant metallic alloys are those of aluminium, titanium, copper and magnesium. Copper alloys have been known for a long time (since the Bronze Age), while the alloys of the other three metals have been relatively recently developed. Due to the chemical reactivity of these metals, the electrolytic extraction processes required were only developed relatively recently. The alloys of aluminium, titanium and magnesium are also known and valued for their high strength-to-weight ratios and, in the case of magnesium, their ability to provide electromagnetic shielding. These materials are ideal for situations where high strength-to-weight ratios are more important than bulk cost, such as in the aerospace industry and certain automotive engineering applications.

Sub-disciplines of materials science[edit]

Below is a list of disciplines within or related to the materials science field. These range from biomaterials, to ceramics, to metals, to textile reinforced materials. Also note that these are linked to the respective main article.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Ashby, Michael; Hugh Shercliff; David Cebon (2007). Materials: engineering, science, processing and design (1st ed.). Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-7506-8391-3. 
  • Askeland, Donald R.; Pradeep P. Phulé (2005). The Science & Engineering of Materials (5th ed.). Thomson-Engineering. ISBN 0-534-55396-6. 
  • Callister, Jr., William D. (2000). Materials Science and Engineering – An Introduction (5th ed.). John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 0-471-32013-7. 
  • Eberhart, Mark (2003). Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way It Comes Apart. Harmony. ISBN 1-4000-4760-9. 
  • Gaskell, David R. (1995). Introduction to the Thermodynamics of Materials (4th ed.). Taylor and Francis Publishing. ISBN 1-56032-992-0. 
  • Gordon, James Edward (1984). The New Science of Strong Materials or Why You Don't Fall Through the Floor (eissue ed.). Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02380-8. 
  • Mathews, F.L. & Rawlings, R.D. (1999). Composite Materials: Engineering and Science. Boca Raton: CRC Press. ISBN 0-8493-0621-3. 
  • Lewis, P.R., Reynolds, K. & Gagg, C. (2003). Forensic Materials Engineering: Case Studies. Boca Raton: CRC Press. 
  • Wachtman, John B. (1996). Mechanical Properties of Ceramics. New York: Wiley-Interscience, John Wiley & Son's. ISBN 0-471-13316-7. 
  • Walker, P., ed. (1993). Chambers Dictionary of Materials Science and Technology. Chambers Publishing. ISBN 0-550-13249-X. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Timeline of Materials Science at The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society (TMS) – Accessed March 2007
  • Burns, G.; Glazer, A.M. (1990). Space Groups for Scientists and Engineers (2nd ed.). Boston: Academic Press, Inc. ISBN 0-12-145761-3. 
  • Cullity, B.D. (1978). Elements of X-Ray Diffraction (2nd ed.). Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. ISBN 0-534-55396-6. 
  • Giacovazzo, C; Monaco HL; Viterbo D; Scordari F; Gilli G; Zanotti G; Catti M (1992). Fundamentals of Crystallography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-855578-4. 
  • Green, D.J.; Hannink, R.; Swain, M.V. (1989). Transformation Toughening of Ceramics. Boca Raton: CRC Press. ISBN 0-8493-6594-5. 
  • Lovesey, S. W. (1984). Theory of Neutron Scattering from Condensed Matter; Volume 1: Neutron Scattering. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-852015-8. 
  • Lovesey, S. W. (1984). Theory of Neutron Scattering from Condensed Matter; Volume 2: Condensed Matter. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-852017-4. 
  • O'Keeffe, M.; Hyde, B.G. (1996). Crystal Structures; I. Patterns and Symmetry. Washington, DC: Mineralogical Society of America, Monograph Series. ISBN 0-939950-40-5. 
  • Squires, G.L. (1996). Introduction to the Theory of Thermal Neutron Scattering (2nd ed.). Mineola, New York: Dover Publications Inc. ISBN 0-486-69447-X. 
  • Young, R.A., ed. (1993). The Rietveld Method. Oxford: Oxford University Press & International Union of Crystallography. ISBN 0-19-855577-6. 

External links[edit]

Professional organizations[edit]

International conferences[edit]