Alloy (Encyclopedia of Science)
An alloy is a mixture of two or more metals. Some familiar examples of alloys include brass, bronze, pewter, cast and wrought iron, steel, coin metals, and solder (pronounced SOD-der; a substance used to join other metallic surfaces together). Alloys are usually synthetic materials, developed by scientists for special purposes. They generally have specially desirable properties quite different from the metals from which they are made. As an example, Wood's metal is a mixture of about 50 percent bismuth, 10 percent cadmium, 13 percent tin, and 27 percent lead that melts at 70°C (160°F). This low melting point makes Wood's metal useful as a plug in automatic sprinkler systems. Soon after a fire breaks out, the heat from the flames melts the Wood's metal plug, releasing water from the sprinkler system.
(The entire section is 285 words.)
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Alloy (World of Earth Science)
An alloy is a mixture of two or more elements, at least one of which is metallic, that itself has metallic properties (ductility, conductivity, etc.). Compounds that involve metals but do not have metallic properties are not alloys. Alloying occurs naturally; most raw gold, for example, is alloyed with silver, and natural nickel-iron alloys occur both in terrestrial rocks and as a common ingredient of meteorites. However, all alloys used for modern technological purposes are created industrially. This is necessary both because most raw metals exist as chemical compounds in rocks and because the balance of ingredients in a useful alloy must be precise.
In a given alloy, one metal is usually present in higher concentration than any other element; this is termed the parent metal or solvent of the alloy. Most alloys are solid at room temperature, and are assumed to be in the solid state when their properties are specified. Three common alloys are steel (parent metal iron, main additive carbon), bronze (parent metal copper, main additive tin), and brass (parent metal copper, main additive zinc).
The nature of the mixing in an alloy depends on the chemical properties of its ingredients. The atoms of the different elements in an alloy can be roughly classed as indifferent to each other, as attracting each other, or as repelling each other. If all atoms in an alloy are indifferent to each other, they mix randomly and produce an alloy that is uniform at all levels above the atomic. Such an alloy is termed a random solid solution. If the atoms of unlike elements in an alloy attract each other, some orderly pattern develops when the alloy cools from its molten to its solid state. Such a solid is termed a superlattice or ordered solid solution. For example, a half-copper, half-aluminum alloy is an ordered solid solution in which planes of aluminum atoms alternate with planes of copper atoms. However, if the unlike atoms in a substance are attracted by strong electrical forces, the result is not an ordered solid solution with metallic properties but a true chemical compound. Salt, for example (sodium chloride, NaCl), is considered an ionic compound, not an alloy of sodium.
If the unlike atoms in an alloy attract each other less than the like atoms, the elements tend to segregate into distinct crystal domains upon solidification. The alloy is then a mass of pure, microscopic crystals of its component elements and is termed a phase mixture.
See also Crystals and crystallography; Industrial minerals; Metals; Precious metals; Phase state changes