Properties of Materials

Why is Atomic Structure Important ?

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This is the story of how materials are made up from atoms. There are only about 100 kinds of atoms in all the Universe, and whether these atoms form trees or tyres, ashes or animals, water or the air we breath, depends on how they are put together. The same atoms are used again and again. Structure determines not only the appearance of materials, but also their properties. When an electrical insulator can become a superconductor, a pencil a diamond, a common cold a deadly virus, we begin to understand how important it is to understand the structure of materials.

Every year we are making rapid progress in developing new tools to understand structure; X-rays and accelerators, electron microscopes and nuclear reactors are among many physical and chemical techniques. One of the most important tools is of course the computer, both for calculating structures and visualising them. Combining computers with communication means that the secrets of structure, and the beauty of structure, can be revealed to everyone.

First we will try to understand why atoms naturally arrange themselves to form a structure. Then we will look at some common structures, and ask why diamonds are forever, but salt is of the earth - all of which will help us understand the different kinds of bonding between atoms. Finally we will look at the structure of some exciting new materials - Superconductors and Giant Magneto-Resistive ceramics for example - that will be used to transport us to work and to play... tomorrow.

But let's begin.

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