Tutorial on Materials Science

This page and its sub-pages are intended to be a help for our students and for anybody who wants to get more information in our area of research.



Let's classify man-made materials in the order in which they were discovered and utilized.  For thousands of years ceramics and metals revolutionized our lifes.  These materials could be shaped and modified to address their mode of use.  In the past hundred years surpeconductors, polymers, semiconductors and composite materials were added.  The understanding of the structure-properties relationship of materials allowed for a continuous progress as people started modifying those properties and designing new materials rather than just selecting the right material from a list of existing ones. 


Materials have important uses in arts, engineering and sciences.  Since one of the main concerns of the users is the durability of the objects and devices, the main criterion in selecting materials was their mechanical properties.  Today we are interested in additional properties: thermal, magnetic, electrical and optical properties.  These physical properties describe the way by which materials respond to external factors such as mechanical stresses, heat, magnetic fields, electrical fields and electromagnetic radiation.  Chemical properties are also very important since the interaction with the environment will determine their usability (oxidation, corrosion, etc).  In more complex systems such as biosystems, it is very clear that the properties  of materials overlap and is hard to separate their various functions.


It became clear from the very beginning of the study of materials that their ability to perform a function was determined not by the properties of the atomic elements composing it but mainly by the interation (bonding) between them.  The structure is the arrangement of atoms that can be random (as in amourphous or glassy materials) or ordered (as in poly or single crystals). In addition, the way by which the materials are proccessed is quite important in determining their ultimate performance since defects in  structure can be formed that alter (in either positive or negative way) the properties of a material.