20 Examples of Brittle Materials with their Uses

Materials that are brittle tend to break easily under stress without showing any visible deformation. They are used in a wide range of applications, such as construction and engineering, and have a direct impact on the overall strength and durability of a product or structure.

In this article, we will explore the properties of brittle materials and provide 20 examples of brittle materials commonly used in various industries.

Properties of Brittle Materials

Brittle materials are characterized by several key properties, including:

  • Low ductility: Brittle materials also have low ductility, meaning they are unable to deform or stretch significantly before breaking.
  • High strength: Despite their low toughness and ductility, brittle materials often exhibit high strength in compression.

Examples of Brittle Materials

Glass

glazier worker cutting glass with compass glass
glazier worker cutting glass with compass glass

Glass is a classic example of brittle material. It has long been used for many purposes, from creating decorative pieces to protecting delicate items. But glass’s low impact resistance and ductility make it prone to cracking or shattering under stress, making it difficult to use in certain applications. So, what makes glass so brittle?

Simply put, the chemical composition of glass means that when any force is applied, its molecular structure becomes weak and unable to absorb the energy effectively. This results in glass easily breaking into sharp pieces which can be dangerous if not handled correctly. Despite this drawback, there are still many practical uses for this versatile material due to its durability and heat-resistant properties.

Ceramics

mugs plates and other ceramic utensils
mugs plates and other ceramic utensils

Ceramics are an essential part of modern life. They have a variety of uses, from decorative pieces and sculptures to engineering components and cookware. Ceramic materials are hard, brittle substances that are known for their heat-resistant and corrosion-resistant properties.

To create a ceramic material, an inorganic, nonmetal substance such as clay is shaped and then fired at high temperatures. This process involves multiple steps to ensure the desired properties of the material are achieved. Ceramics can be both aesthetically pleasing as well as highly functional products used across many industries today.

Concrete

workers working with concrete
workers working with concrete

Concrete is an incredibly versatile material made up of cement, sand, and water. It is widely used in the construction industry to build strong structures that can withstand a great deal of force.

But it has one major weak point: its ductility makes it brittle. Brittle materials are prone to cracking when excessive stress is applied. In concrete, this could be from environmental factors like extreme weather conditions or physical impacts such as earthquakes or explosions.

Asbestos

asbestos mineral fibers
asbestos mineral fibers

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was once widely used as a building material. It is now known to be a carcinogenic substance and is considered to be highly dangerous when disturbed or inhaled. This brittle mineral has been around for centuries, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that its use became widespread.

In the 1950s, asbestos was known as one of the “miracle” materials due to its heat resistance and affordability. However, by the 1970s its dangers had become clear and it began to be phased out of use in most countries across the world.

Granite

piles of granite marble slabs stone sheets
piles of granite marble slabs stone sheets

Granite is a type of rock that has been used for centuries in construction and engineering. This rock is formed deep within the Earth’s crust, where pressure and heat cause it to form into large, hard crystals. Just as with the other materials on this list, granite is a hard material that can be brittle when exposed to certain conditions.

Unlike other kinds of rocks, granite has characteristics that make it perfect for building structures. Its hardness makes it durable enough to withstand exposure to weathering agents like wind and rain, while its brittleness gives it strength in extreme temperatures or sudden impacts. Granite’s natural beauty also adds aesthetic value to any project or structure.

Marble

large rectangular blocks of white carrara marble
large rectangular blocks of white carrara marble

Like granite, marble is a type of rock that is commonly used in construction and engineering. It is well-known for its resistance to weathering and corrosion, making it an ideal material for building monuments and edifices such as the Taj Mahal or the Parthenon.

However, like other materials in this list, marble is also considered to be brittle. Marble may appear solid and durable but its brittleness makes it prone to cracking if too much pressure or weight is applied to it.

This means that when working with this type of rock, engineers have to use caution when handling the material during construction projects so as not to damage it. Despite this shortcoming, however, marble remains one of the most sought-after building materials due to its elegant appearance and strength compared with other rocks in its class.

Limestone

limestone bricks heap for building a house
limestone bricks heap for building a house

Limestone is a sedimentary rock used for centuries as a building material. It is exceptionally brittle in its natural state and can easily be manipulated into various shapes and sizes.

It also possesses excellent durability, making it a popular choice for flooring, countertops, walls, and other home features. Thanks to limestone’s affordability and availability, it has become one of the most widely used materials in construction projects around the world.

It is easily sourced from quarries and can be obtained in both large pieces or small ones depending on what’s needed by the project at hand. Additionally, limestone comes in a variety of colors and textures which makes it extremely versatile when used in decorative applications such as bathrooms or outdoor paving.

Sandstone

unpolished sandstone rock
unpolished sandstone rock

Sandstone is a sedimentary rock composed of cemented grains of quartz, feldspar, or other minerals and can be found around the world in a variety of colors and textures. Sandstone often has a natural beauty that makes it very appealing to architects and designers alike. Unfortunately, sandstone is known for being brittle and can easily crack or break under pressure.

The fracture lines within the rock are often quite visible when it’s broken into pieces due to its uniform grain size. Despite this drawback, sandstone remains one of the most widely used rocks in construction today because its strength can vary depending on how it’s cut or laid out when building structures.

Gypsum

stacking of white gypsum panels
stacking of white gypsum panels

Gypsum is a soft sulfate mineral composed of calcium sulfate dihydrate. It is commonly used as a fertilizer to enrich the soil and help plants grow, but it can also be found in products such as drywall, chalkboard, and even toothpaste. Despite its versatility, gypsum has one major drawback – its fragility. Gypsum is brittle, meaning it can easily fracture or break upon impact with hard surfaces.

This makes it ideal for use in certain products like wallboard or plaster but unsuitable if you need a strong material that won’t chip away when struck. Even though this mineral is extremely fragile, gypsum still has many applications throughout our everyday lives and deserves recognition for its diverse uses and contributions to modern society.

Brass

many brass pipes warehouse brass plates
many brass pipes warehouse brass plates

Brass is an alloy made up of copper and zinc, and it’s one of the oldest known alloys. It has been around for hundreds of years and it has been known to humans since prehistoric times and its use as a durable alloy for making jewelry, tools, and weapons has stood the test of time.

The properties of brass vary depending on the ratio of copper and zinc used during its creation – as more zinc is added, the material gains greater hardness but becomes more brittle at the same time. To achieve a desired balance between strength and malleability (ductility), other elements such as aluminum or tin may be added to give brass improved durability.

Cast iron

empty cast iron pan on a dark table
empty cast iron pan on a dark table

Cast iron is an alloy of iron that contains 2 to 4 percent carbon. Often referred to as “grey cast iron,” this material is prized for its strength and heat resistance. However, when exposed to sudden changes in temperature or rapid cooling, it can become brittle due to the high percentage of carbon present. As a result, care must be taken when handling cast iron so as not to cause fractures or chips – especially during welding processes.

Steel

steel pipes bunch in the steel factory
steel pipes bunch in the steel factory

Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon that has improved strength applications for construction, automotive, engineering, and other industrial uses. It has been used for centuries due to its durability and affordability but it is also considered a brittle material. This means that although steel can cope with higher stress levels than iron alone can, it is sensitive to shock or vibration which could cause the material to fail or fracture.

The strength of steel lies in its chemical composition; the high percentage of carbon alloyed with iron results in a stronger material compared to pure iron. This allows applications such as bridge building where heavier loads need to be supported without significantly increasing the weight of the structure itself. Steel’s long-term durability also makes it ideal for structures such as buildings that require support over many years without compromising on stability.

Acrylic

acrylic crystals
acrylic crystals

Acrylic, a synthetic plastic, has many uses in the modern world. From glazing windows to making signboards and aquariums, acrylic is incredibly versatile and popular. It’s renowned for its clarity and transparency, allowing light to pass through while still providing an effective barrier. But despite its versatility and popularity, acrylic has one major drawback – it is highly brittle.

While this may seem like an insignificant issue at first glance, it can be hugely problematic if not properly taken into account. Acrylic can easily shatter or crack with too much pressure or impact; often resulting in costly repair or replacement of the material itself.

PVC

stack of orange pvc water pipes
stack of orange pvc water pipes

PVC, or Polyvinyl Chloride, is the most widely used plastic material in plumbing and electrical applications. It’s a great choice for both pipes and cable insulation due to its affordability and flexibility. However, PVC can also be brittle when exposed to extreme temperatures.

The good news is that PVC can be easily reinforced with other materials such as fiberglass or steel mesh to increase its strength and stability. This makes it an ideal choice for areas such as bathrooms or kitchens where pipes are often exposed to rugged use.

Polycarbonate

polycarbonate rectangular blocks of piles
polycarbonate rectangular blocks of piles

Polycarbonate is an incredibly useful and versatile thermoplastic material that is rapidly growing in popularity for its extreme impact resistance. With a tensile strength of up to 200 times greater than glass, polycarbonate has become the go-to choice for safety glasses and other safety applications – all of which require an exceptionally durable material.

Despite its incredible strength, however, it can still be brittle when exposed to certain conditions. This means that while it is perfect for many applications due to its exceptional durability, caution must be taken when using it in conditions where temperature or pressure may change dramatically over time.

While this brittleness should not deter people from using this amazing product, they should remain aware of its potential limitations – especially when used in more extreme scenarios.

Polystyrene

polystyrene storage box isolated on a blue background
polystyrene storage box isolated on a blue background

Polystyrene is a synthetic polymer that has many uses in the modern world. From insulation to packaging and even food service ware, polystyrene is everywhere! Its resilience and low-cost production make it ideal for a wide range of applications. Despite its versatility, polystyrene can be quite brittle under certain conditions; however, this doesn’t stop it from being incredibly useful.

Polystyrene’s low toughness makes it prone to breaking under stress or strain, but its low cost means that breakages can be easily replaced without too much financial impact.

While this may seem like an inconvenience at first glance, in reality, this property gives polystyrene products immense value for money due to their long lifespan and ability to withstand regular wear and tear. This makes polystyrene one of the most popular materials among manufacturers across industries.

Bismuth

bismuth crystalline white metal man made crystal
bismuth crystalline white metal man made crystal

Bismuth is a silvery-white metal that is becoming increasingly popular in the cosmetic and alloy industries. This metal has many unique characteristics that make it an ideal candidate for use in cosmetics as a lead substitute and as a component of fusible alloys.

Despite its low melting point of 271 degrees Celsius, bismuth can withstand incredibly high temperatures without showing signs of melting or losing its structural integrity.

The most remarkable characteristic of bismuth is its brittleness at room temperature. It has poor ductility, which makes it possible to create intricate designs from a cut or sliced piece. This makes bismuth an excellent choice for creating jewelry or other decorative items that require delicate details and shapes.

Additionally, the metallic sheen produced when exposed to light adds another layer of beauty to any product created with this metal.

Zinc

electrolytic zinc production line
electrolytic zinc production line

Zinc is a lustrous bluish-white metal, found in group IIb of the periodic table. It’s a valuable element with many uses in the modern world, from protecting steel from corrosion to aiding in the production of batteries and other electronics.

With its unique hardness and brittleness, zinc has become an increasingly popular material for both industrial and domestic applications.

At ordinary temperatures, zinc is brittle and crystalline, making it difficult to work with but also offering great durability when used as coating or plating on metals such as steel. Its extremely high melting point makes it ideal for soldering where higher temperatures are necessary for effective bonding.

This property also makes it an excellent choice for cookware, since it can withstand long periods at high temperatures without losing its structure or releasing toxic fumes into food.

Magnesium

magnesium
magnesium

Magnesium is a lightweight metal that has become a popular choice for many industrial applications. Its strength, durability, and light weight make it an ideal material for the aerospace and automotive industries.

This metal is valued not only for its utilitarian uses but also for its ability to create beautiful pieces of art. Despite the numerous benefits of magnesium, it is still considered to be a brittle metal. This brittleness does not take away from the usefulness of magnesium in industries such as transportation and aerospace engineering.

Some experts claim that this brittleness makes the metal more desirable due to its increased strength when combined with other metals such as aluminum and steel. The combination of these various metals can form strong alloys that have superior performance compared to pure magnesium alone.

Manganese

manganese mining site in south africa
manganese mining site in south africa

Manganese is an incredibly versatile metal that is essential to strengthening steel alloys and acting as a catalyst in many industrial processes. Its silvery-gray hue makes it a highly sought-after material, as its strength and durability have made it invaluable in many industries. Despite its strong reputation, manganese still exhibits brittleness in certain conditions; however, this does not affect the overall performance of the element.

The brittleness of manganese can be attributed to its reactivity with other elements like oxygen, sulfur, chlorine, and water vapor—all of which cause the metal to corrode at a rapid rate when exposed. It’s also possible for manganese to become brittle if exposed to extreme temperatures or sudden temperature changes.

Final Thoughts

Brittle materials play a crucial role in various industries and have a significant impact on the strength and durability of products and structures. Understanding the properties of brittle materials and the examples commonly used in different applications is essential for engineers and designers to make informed decisions and produce high-quality products.

In conclusion, the above examples show the importance of taking into consideration the properties of brittle materials when selecting the right material for a particular application. This article provides a comprehensive guide to understanding brittle materials and serves as a valuable resource for those looking to gain a deeper understanding of this important topic.

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