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Properties of materials

Properties of materialsWhen choosing the right material for a project, it’s important to think about all of its properties. Check out our five-minute guide to material properties below.

Chemical properties

Corrosion Corrosion is when a metal is attacked by chemical substances. This includes situations like rusting, or when materials are corroded by active elements in certain lubricants.

Degradation This refers to the chemical degradation of non-metal materials. For instance, many natural materials such as wood may not rust but can be degraded by water. Plastics can also degrade if they are exposed to certain chemical solvents.

Electrical properties

Conductor or insulator? Whether a material conducts electricity is extremely important, and this is generally determined by its resistance. A material with low resistance is a good conductor of electricity.

For example, copper has a low resistance and so it is useful in making electrical wires. Materials with high resistance or no conductivity at all are useful as insulators.

Thermal properties

Conductivity Does it conduct heat? In the case of a radiator, this is an essential quality. For other products, such as the casing of a laptop computer, ideally the material will not heat up too quickly in case it damages the parts inside.

Melting temperature Even your saucepans will melt if heated beyond a certain temperature. Most metals and plastic have a melting point at which they lose their solid properties. Some plastics, like thermosetting plastics, do not melt but simply burn if heated enough.

Expansion Most materials will go through changes if exposed to extremes of heat and cold. Metals tend to expand quite a lot when heated, and non-metals expand too, although to a lesser degree.

Mechanical properties

  • Strength: the ability of a material to withstand a strong force without breaking.
  • Toughness: the ability of a material to resist impact loads (a sudden force such as a knock or jolt)
  • Elasticity: the ability of materials to spring back to their original shape once they have been altered. For example a rubber band.
  • Plasticity: the extent to which materials can be moulded into new shapes by an applied force. For example a ball of plasticine.
  • Ductility: the same as above, only the material is moulded into a new shape by a pulling force.
  • Malleability: the same as above, only a compressive force can be used to change the shape of the material.
  • Hardness: the ability of materials to withstand scratches for example, wood is not very hard, as it can be fairly easily scratched with, say, a pen or a fingernail.
  • Rigidity: some materials are good at withstanding loads, and won’t change shape even if heavy loads are applied. These materials are rigid.

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