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An alloy is a homogeneous mixture of two or more elements, at least one of which is a metal, and where the resulting material has metallic properties. The resulting metallic substance usually has different properties (sometimes substantially different) from those of its components.
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Alloys are usually prepared to improve on the properties of other elements. For instance, steel is stronger than iron, its primary element. The physical properties of an alloy, such as density, reactivity, Young's modulus, and electrical and thermal conductivity may not differ greatly from the alloy's elements, but engineering properties, such as tensile strength and shear strength can be substantially different from those of the constituent materials. This is sometimes due to the differing sizes of the atoms in the alloy, since larger atoms exert a compressive force on neighboring atoms, and smaller atoms exert a tensile force on their neighbors. This helps the alloy resist deformation, unlike a pure metal where the atoms move more freely. Alloys may exhibit marked difference in behavior even in the case of small amounts of impurities being one element of the alloy; for example impurities in semi conducting ferromagnetic alloys lead to different properties as first predicted by White, Hogan, Suhl and Nakamura. Some alloys are made by melting and mixing two or more metals. Brass is an alloy made from copper and zinc. Bronze, used for statues, ornaments and church bells, is an alloy of tin and copper. Unlike pure metals, most alloys do not have a single melting point. Instead, they have a melting range in which the material is a mixture of solid and liquid phases. The temperature at which melting begins is called the solidus, and that at which melting is complete is called the liquidus. However, for most pairs of elements, there is a particular ratio which has a single melting point; this is termed the eutectic mixture.
Alloys can be classified by the number of their constituents. An alloy with two components is called a binary alloy; one with three is a ternary alloy, and so forth. Alloys can be further classified as either substitution alloys or interstitial alloys, depending on their method of formation. In substitution alloys, the atoms of the components are approximately the same size and the various atoms are simply substituted for one another in the crystal structure. An example of a (binary) substitution alloy is brass, made up of copper and zinc. Interstitial alloys occur when the atoms of one component are substantially smaller than the other and the smaller atoms fit into the spaces (interstices) between the larger atoms.
In practice, some alloys are used so predominantly with respect to their base metals that the name of the primary constituent is also used as the name of the alloy. For example, 14 karat gold is an alloy of gold with other elements. Similarly, the silver used in jewelry and the aluminium used as a structural building material are also alloys.
The term "alloy" is sometime used in everyday speech as a synonym for a particular alloy. For example, automobile wheels made of "aluminium alloy" are commonly referred to as simply "alloy wheels". The usage is obviously indefinite, since steels and most other metals in practical use are also alloys.
Look up alloy in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Alloy". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|