ALEXANDRIA, VA –
The world around us is even more complex than it already looks. For those of us that see the world as a series of mysteries to be solved, there is so much to learn. Take, for example, something as seemingly mundane as the metals that we see every day all around us. While many of us understand the periodic table of elements, the combinations of those elements can create some truly incredible things. In this article, we’ll look at why alloys are more useful than pure metals and why we use them so much.
Ductility and Malleability
Did you know that pure gold is so malleable that you can bend it using just your hands? How, then, do we have gold jewelry that doesn’t bend or warp? The answer is alloys, of course. Mixing metals with gold, such as silver, zinc, or copper, can contribute to how tough the final alloy is. A lot of gold jewelry is actually a gold alloy that has been mixed in order to make it stronger. This added strength is why alloys can be more useful than pure metals.
Metals are often put up against extremely high temperatures, both in fabrication and in regular use. Mixing metals into an alloy actually changes the melting point at which either metal would normally start to break down. Usually, a higher melting point is desired, so the metal can stand up to more use in a more difficult environment. This heat can also come from pressure as well, so it pays to have a strong alloy in places that need to be tightly pressurized.
Heavier metals, such as lead, are more difficult to work with because of their increased mass, and they aren’t useful where lightweight materials are needed, such as in the aerospace industry. Tougher metals with higher mass are often mixed with metals that have lower mass in order to retain their strength yet decrease their overall mass; an alloy can combine the best of both worlds if mixed correctly.
One of the big problems with pure metals is that they are often far too reactive with their surroundings. Whether it be with the air, water, or solids like salt, pure metals often react in ways we don’t want to deal with. An alloy like stainless steel, however, doesn’t have as many places for these outside forces to bond to on a molecular level. This means that alloys are usually much less reactive to their environment, making them perfect for use in the aerospace and nautical industries where metals are regularly exposed to harsh conditions.