Background (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Paradoxically, ceramic science is one of the oldest yet one of the newest technologies. Much of what is known of prehistoric humans and of the earliest civilizations has been learned from the pottery that was left behind. This longevity illustrates one of the greatest assets of ceramic materials, their durability. The fact that most of the surviving pieces are fragments gives evidence of the greatest weakness, their brittleness.
The term “ceramics” is derived from the Greek term keramos, which means “potter’s clay.” ceramics is defined in some dictionaries as “the art of making things from baked clay.” “Clay” is used in describing ceramics because it was an essential material in traditional ceramic compositions. The term “baked” is important, since high temperatures are used in most processing of ceramics. Although simple, this description of ceramics was an accurate one until the time of World War II. In the early 1940’s, the field of materials science, of which ceramics is a part, experienced a push to develop new materials and processing methods. Today, a more accurate present-day description of ceramics might be “the art and science of making and using implements and other articles that are essentially composed of inorganic and nonmetallic compounds.”
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Traditional Ceramics (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
The ceramic industries may be grouped into several divisions according to the products produced. Traditional divisions include whitewares, refractories, abrasives, structural clay products, glass, cement, and porcelain enamels. Developments in the second half of the twentieth century in the fields of nuclear physics and electronics resulted in many new ceramic products, collectively known as technical ceramics.
Whitewares are materials such as clay, feldspar, whiting, and potter’s flint that fire to a white color. The mineral mixtures are shaped and then partially melted at high temperatures to produce a dense hard material. The term whiteware is misleading, since products in this class are produced in a wide variety of colors, depending on the amounts of impurities in the raw materials. Common whitewares include earthenware, porcelain or other tableware products as well as casseroles and bowls, floor and wall tile, and decorative products such as vases and lamp bases. Important commercial whitewares include laboratory ware such as porcelain crucibles, combustion tubes, and grinding balls for the chemist as well as electrical porcelains such as spark plugs and insulators.
Refractories are structural materials manufactured for the purpose of withstanding corrosive high-temperature conditions in furnaces and process vessels. Refractories have high melting temperatures, good hot strength, and resistance to chemical...
(The entire section is 487 words.)
Technical Ceramics (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Research after World War II made possible a wide variety of nontraditional ceramic products based on high-purity synthetic materials processed by special techniques. A few items will illustrate the scope of this relatively new field.
Ceramics have played an essential role in the development of the computer industry. The ceramic process is used in the fabrication of the complex integrated circuits that perform the basic operations of a computer on silicon semiconductor wafers. These integrated circuits are packaged on ceramic substrate materials.
Oxides and carbides of uranium, plutonium, and thorium are ceramic materials that are used in the production of fuels for nuclear fission reactors. High-strength concrete, often containing lead, is used in shielding structures around nuclear reactors. “Hot cell” windows, made of leaded glass, maintain optical transparency when exposed to radiation. Ceramic materials are also used in virtually all segments of the aerospace industry. Refractory materials are used in building launching pads, rocket nozzles, and heat shields.
Lasers, which came into prominence in the 1960’s, utilize the various quantum transitions that atoms and molecules undergo to produce intense beams of infrared, visible, or ultraviolet light. The original ruby laser used as its light-emitting medium a crystalline aluminum oxide ceramic that contained a small amount of chromium. Another...
(The entire section is 251 words.)
Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Barsoum, M. W. Fundamentals of Ceramics. Rev. ed. Philadelphia: Institute of Physics, 2003.
Bormans, P. Ceramics Are More than Clay Alone: Raw Materials, Products, Applications. Cambridge, England: Cambridge International Science, 2003.
Carter, C. Barry, and M. Grant Norton. Ceramic Materials: Science and Engineering. New York: Springer, 2007.
Jones, J. T., and M. F. Berard. Ceramics Industrial Processing and Testing. 2d ed. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1993.
McColm, Ian J. Dictionary of Ceramic Science and Engineering. 2d ed. New York: Plenum Press, 1994.
Phillips, George C. A Concise Introduction to Ceramics. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1991.
Sōmiya, Shigeyuki, et al., eds. Handbook of Advanced Ceramics. 2 vols. Boston: Elsevier/Academic Press, 2003.
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Ceramics. http://matse1.mse.uiuc.edu/ceramics/ceramics.html
(The entire section is 125 words.)