This resource provides explanations of the key concepts encountered when exploring Ceramics – the ‘basics’ that every student should understand.

Ceramic

A type of solid material displaying properties such as hardness, brittleness, heat resistance and corrosion resistance. In the production process, the component materials are first shaped and then fired at high temperatures.

Traditional ceramic

A clay-based ceramic such as earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. Ceramic comes from the Greek word meaning ‘pottery’. The domestic wares, art objects and building products we come into daily contact with are all ‘pottery’.

Advanced ceramic

A non clay-based ceramic material that displays special properties with engineering and medical applications. Advanced ceramics are often based on metal oxides, non-metal oxides and nitrides, or combinations of these.

Bioceramic

A category of advanced ceramics. Bioceramics are often used as implants in the human body to replace hard tissue such as bone and teeth. Examples include alumina, zirconia and hydroxyapatite.

Mineral

A naturally occurring solid formed through geological processes. Minerals have a characteristic chemical composition, a highly ordered atomic structure and specific physical properties.

Clay

A soft, loose, earthy material containing particles with a grain size of less than 4 micrometres (μm). It forms as result of the weathering and erosion of rocks containing feldspar or feldspar-like minerals over vast spans of time.

Hydroxyapatite

A type of mineral, based on calcium phosphate, that is a major component and essential ingredient of human teeth and bones and gives them their hardness and strength.

Temperature

The use of very high temperatures in the production of advanced ceramics – a process called ‘sintering’ – determines the type of structures formed. In turn, this determines the physical properties like hardness, toughness and fracture resistance that are displayed.

Properties of solids

The types of properties looked for in advanced ceramics used in engineering and medicine include corrosion resistance, hardness, toughness, strength, thermal shock resistance and electrical resistance.

Crystal structure

The arrangement of ‘building block’ particles such as atoms, ions or molecules in a crystalline solid. Within the structure, a regular repeating unit can be identified.

Superconductivity

Some materials when cooled to very low temperatures lose all electrical resistance. In this state, they can carry very large electrical currents with little energy loss. Advanced ceramics have been developed that become superconductive at low temperatures.

Published 26 April 2010, Updated 21 October 2016