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Name: Sterling
Status: student
Grade: 4-5
Location: FL
Country: USA
Date: Summer 2009



Question:
What are the characteristics of a strong metal? ceramic? polymer?


Replies:
Sterling,

Unfortunately, when it comes to materials the term "strong" has many different meanings. For example, very hard, tempered steel will resist deformation (changing shape) and this is considered strong. However, despite being strong, some tempered steel can be brittle and if hit with enough force, fast enough, it will shatter - however, it is still considered a strong material. In contrast, cross-linked, vulcanized rubber will deform readily (it bends or compresses with even low force), but if we try to stretch it, it takes a lot of force before it finally breaks. So, even though rubber yields with an application of tensile stretching force, since it does not break or tear apart readily, it is also considered strong.

The upshot of this is that the molecular source for the strength of these materials vary depending on the material. In general, how well the atoms hold on to each other -either by intermolecular attraction or by interatomic bonds- is a good guide of how strong materials are. This is mitigated by crystal boundary forces, intermolecular physical loops, etc.

Perhaps, if you could let us know what precisely you mean by "strength" and for what specific type of material, we can answer this better.

Greg (Roberto Gregorius)
Canisius College



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