Metals & Alloys
Hard, shiny, and tough—metals are the macho poster boys of the material world. Learning how to extract these substances from the Earth and turn them into all kinds of useful materials was one of the most important developments in human civilization.
What exactly is metal? Over three quarters of the chemical elements that occur naturally on our planet are metals, so it's almost easier to say what metal isn't.
When we talk about metals, we're usually referring to chemical elements that are solid (with relatively high melting points), hard, strong, durable, shiny, silvery gray in color, good conductors of electricity and heat, and easy to work into various different shapes and forms (such as thin sheets and wires). The word metal is quite a broad and vague term, and not something you can define precisely.
An alloy is a mixture of two elements, one of which is a metal. Alloys often have properties that are different to the metals they contain. This makes them more useful than the pure metals alone. For example, alloys are often harder than the metal they contain.
Alloys contain atoms of different sizes, which distorts the regular arrangements of atoms. This makes it more difficult for the layers to slide over each other, so alloys are harder than the pure metal.
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