Materials Blog
Painting the Eiffel Tower Print E-mail
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In addition to the marking of the 120th anniversary of the inauguration of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, this is the year that the world-renowned "Iron Lady" is being repainted for the 19th time since its initial construction in 1889. Although more than a century has elapsed since the first coating on the tower, the current painting crew will employ the same methods used over 100 years ago to sand, clean, spot treat for corrosion, and apply a coat of modern day, urethane alkyd-based paint. All the work is done manually by 25 painters who climb on girder beams, at altitudes up to 300 m, to reach every inch of the tower's 250.000 m2 of surface area with their handheld scrapers and paint brushes - no sandblasting or spray painting allowed.

From: "Protecting the Eiffel Tower from the Onset of Corrosion", e-newsletter of NACE International, November 2009

I'ts a Materials world: Man Made Print E-mail
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The fascinating world of materials technology is beautifully exhibited in the series "Man Made" of National Geographic Channel. Modern skyscrapers, the construction of a ferrari or an ultrasonic train, and the olympic watercube in Bejing are just some examples of how materials technology allows to construct the apparantly impossible. Click here for more fascination.

Building stones Print E-mail
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Materials are like the construction of your house

Once the concrete foundation is set, the walls are built with bricks that overlap each other to form a nice patchwork. Floors are separated thanks to concrete or wooden beams and to keep the rain out ceramic or slate tiles are stacked upon the ingenious timber frame that forms the solid base of your roof. Concrete, bricks, wood and roof tiles are however not the only important key matters in guaranteeing the solidity of your house. It can resist heavy rain showers, storm or even worse thanks to the materials that keep everything together; steel reinforcement, cement, mortar, nuts and bolts, nails and screws are as important to guarantee a longstanding feeling of safety in your home.

Materials are alike. All materials, also those in our houses, are constituted of building stones as well. These microscopic building stones are called ‘atoms’. They can be stacked in many different ways and the way they are stacked determines in large part how strong the material will be. A nice example is the comparison of ‘diamond’ and the grayish core of our pencil, the latter also indicated as ‘graphite’. Both materials are completely constituted of carbon atoms, yet diamond is the hardest material known on earth and your pencil rod is as soft as butter. The difference is explained by the way the carbon atoms are stacked. The stacking in both materials is clearly illustrated by the pictures below. In a diamond all atoms are strongly tied to each other, explaining diamond’s hardness. Your pencil rod consists of several atom layers of which the bonding of the atoms in one layer is very strong, yet the bonding strength between the individual layers is very weak, explaining its softness.

DIAMOND                                                         GRAPHITE



Where diamond and graphite consist of only carbon atoms and one stacking type, it should however be realized that most materials are built up with several types of atoms and can contain several types of stacking, the latter called ‘phases’. A well known example are steels. Steels are mainly constituted of iron atoms, yet also a small portion of carbon atoms is present along with some other atom types. Dependent on how these atoms are stacked in one or more phases, the final material will be a conventional construction steel, a stainless steel or yet another type of steel.

It is also possible that a material is constituted of several other materials. A very well known example are the race bikes of professional cyclists like Tom Boonen or Sven Nys. The frame and several other parts of their bicycles are made of so called ‘composites’, materials built up out of several other materials. In the case of the frames it consists e.g. of carbon fibers embedded in a polymer matrix material and also their bicycle helmets are made of composite material. To end where we started: also your house contains several composite materials: reinforced concrete is composed of a steel reinforcement, embedded in concrete; concrete on itself contains stones, sand, cement etc.

All stackings together determine how strong the material will be, how strong your house will be.


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A solid home for all your questions on materials technology.

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Nice to know Print E-mail
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Materials are everywhere in our daily life. You can see, feel and even smell or hear them. Their presence and influence is more important than most people can imagine.

On this webpage no scientific analysis or commercial talk, just some nice things to know about materials.

  • Do you know the famous ‘Atomium' in Brussels? Do you know what the atomium symbolizes? The answer: an iron crystal, building stone of cast iron and steel. An iron crystal contains 9 iron atoms in a specific lattice structure: they form a cube with one atom on each angle point of the cube and one atom in the centre of the cube.
  • A music instrument contains wonderful materials. Together with the instrument's size and shape they play an important role in the sound the instrument will produce, but it's only thanks to the musician that its sounds will be transferred to our ears.

  • Mobile phone or iPod, small jewels in our modern society. Do you know that many materials scientists did loose liters of blood, sweat and tears in order to get them so small and that they will spend more energy in order to get them even smaller?

  • Till today the hardest natural material known is diamond. On the other hand, graphite - the small grayish bar in your pencil - is soft as butter. It is difficult to believe, but diamond and graphite are both constituted of only carbon atoms. The difference? The way the carbon atoms are stacked up.

  • Frank De Winne performs materials tests in space: Frank De Winne, the European astronaut that is living in the international space station ISS, performs materials tests in the European space lab. Visit 'Materials Science in Space', explaining why and how materials testing in space can be useful to our life on earth.

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