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A History on Composites

Made by combining two or more materials (usually have
very different properties)
Natural, early, modern
Natural Composites
Exist in both animals and plants
E.g. wood (polymer held together by lignin); bone
(hydroxyapatite + collagen)
History (Early composites)
Wattle and daub
o One of the oldest man-made composite materials
o Over 6000 y.o.
o Woven lattice of wooden strips (wattle) is daubed
(coated) with a sticky material (combination of soil,
clay, sand, animal dung and straw)
o Construction material
o 3400 BC by Ancient Mesopotamians
o Made by gluing together a number of thin veneers or
plies of softwood or hardwood
o Strength comes from its structure (odd number of
veneers; each ply is at a right angle to the one below;
more veneers used, stronger)
o Engineering material for stressed-skin applications;
for marine and aviation applications (e.g. British de
Havilland Mosquito bomber, primarily made using two
layers of birch plywood)
o Often used to create curved surfaces (can easily
bend with grain)
o Used in Egyptian funerary masks (First Intermediate
Period of Egypt c. 2181-2055 BC)
o Made of layers of linen or papyrus covered with
o Mud bricks/ mud walls
o Earliest man-made composite material
o Straw + mud (sand, clay, water) dried into a brick
o To make a building material, or for building
o First documented by Egyptian tomb paintings
o Good compressive strength (resists squashing), poor
tensile strength (prone to bending)
o Fireproof, resistant to seismic activity, inexpensive
o Mix of aggregate (small stones/gravel), cement and
o Good compressive strength

Reinforced concrete: (used in more recent times)

addition of metal rods or wires to it (increase in
tensile/bending strength)
o Consists of paper pieces or pulp (can be reinforced
with textiles) bound with an adhesive (glue, starch,
wallpaper paste)
o Decorative and structural role (e.g. carnival floats,
effigies, theatrical use, puppetry, lamps)
o First artificial fiber reinforced plastic (1907)
o Predated by shellac (resin from female lac bug;
processed and sold as dry flakes)
o Thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin
o Formed from elimination reaction of phenol and
o Use for its electrical nonconductivity and heatresistant properties in electrical insulators, radio and
telephone casings, and such diverse products
(kitchenware, jewelry, pipe stems, firearms, childrens

Making Composites
Most are made of just two materials
Matrix/ binder: surrounds and binds together fibers or
fragment of the other material
Reinforcement: fibers or fragments of a material
Modern Composites
Fiberglass: first modern composite material
o Used for boat hulls, sports equipment, building panels
and many car bodies
o Matrix: plastic; reinforcement: glass (made into fine
threads, often woven into a sort of cloth)
Carbon fibers
o Lighter and stronger than fiberglass; more expensive
o Used in aircraft structures and expensive sports
equipment (e.g. golf clubs)
o Made by oxidizing
Silicon Carbide
o Popular abrasive and cutting tool (due to hardness,
durability and low cost)
Sandpaper (particles are laminated to paper) and
grip tape on skateboards
o Used as structural material (1980s and 1990s)
For high-temperature gas turbines
Intended to replace nickel superalloy turbine
blades/ nozzle vanes (not successful due to low
impact resistance and low fracture toughness)
Composite armor (Chobham armor), ceramic
plates in bulletproof vests
Dragon skin (by Pinnacle Armor)
o For automobile parts

Silicon-infiltrated carbon-carbon composite for

high performance ceramic brake discs (able to
withstand extreme temperatures)
Silicon + graphite in C-C composite = C/SiC
(carbon-fiber-reinforced silicon carbide)
Used in a sintered form for diesel particulate
Oil additive to reduce friction, emissions,
o LEDs
Electroluminescence (1907) discovered using
silicon carbide
First commercial LEDs based on SiC
Gallium nitride was more efficient than SiC due to
SiCs indirect bandgap (unfavourable for light
Carbon nanotubes
o Even lighter and stronger than ordinary carbon fibers;
extremely expensive
o Offer possibilities for making lighter cars and aircraft
(will use less fuel than heavier vehicles)
*Airbus A380
Worlds largest passenger airliner
Uses modern composites in design
> 20% of it is made of composite materials, mainly
plastic reinforced with carbon fibers

Design: first large-scale use of glass-fiber-reinforced

aluminium (25% stronger than conventional airframe
aluminium; 20% lighter)
Advantages of Composites
Light and strong
New material can be made (can exactly meet the
requirements of a particular application) by choosing an
appropriate combination of matrix and reinforcement
Costly as a whole
Raw materials are often expensive