Classification of Materials

Classification of Materials

Basic Concepts and Terminology

  • Material: Anything made of matter, commonly categorised as metals, polymers, ceramics, and composites.

  • Material Science: The study of the properties and uses of materials, including how they can be altered and improved.

  • Atomic Structure: Understanding the way atoms are arranged in a material can inform its properties and behaviours, e.g., conductivity, hardness, brittleness etc.


  • Metals are typically malleable, ductile, and good conductors of heat and electricity.

  • Ferrous metals such as iron and steel: These metals contain iron and are known for their strength and durability, though they’re prone to rusting.

  • Non-ferrous metals such as aluminium and copper: These metals do not contain iron, often lighter and more corrosion resistant.


  • Polymers are macromolecules, comprised of many repeating units known as monomers.

  • Examples include plastics and rubbers, with properties like flexibility, insulation, and resistance to corrosion.

  • Some common types of polymers are polyethylene, PVC, and nylon.


  • Ceramics are inorganic and non-metallic materials made from compounds of a metal and a nonmetal.

  • Characterised by hardness, brittleness, and resistance to heat and chemicals, ceramics include pottery, bricks, and glass.

  • Advanced ceramics, like silicon carbide and alumina, are used in industries such as electronics and aerospace.


  • Composite materials are made from two or more distinct substances, designed to exhibit a combination of the best properties of the individual materials.

  • Examples include fibreglass (glass fibres in a polymer matrix), carbon fibre composites, and concrete (cement and aggregate).

  • Frequently used where a balance of strength, weight, and resistance to various conditions is necessary.