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Photo of Millennium Bridge
Picture 1 The Millenium Bridge in Gateshead or a paper clip. They are both made of steel.
What is steel?
There is no one material called steel, just as there is no one material called plastic. There are thousands of different kinds of steel. Steel is the general name given to a large family of alloys of iron with carbon and a variety of different elements. Even small differences in the composition of the steel can have a dramatic effect on its properties. The properties of the steel can also be modified by different mechanical and heat treatments.
Why steel is so versatile
Steel is such a versatile material because we can adjust its composition and internal structure to tailor its properties. So we can produce a steel for paperclips, a steel for bridges, thin strips of steel for razor blades and large beams for columns and skyscrapers.

In this electronic resource (e-source), we will begin by looking at the underlying structure of steel. You will see how different mechanical and heat processes can modify this structure. We will then look at some examples that illustrate how changing the composition and structure of steel can result in different properties – making the steel suitable for a particular purpose.

  1. Structure and properties
  2. Further treatments
  3. Special steels
  4. Tests on steels
About these e-sources
There are a number of interactive features in this e-source:

A glossary of terms: any word with a glossary entry is highlighted like that. Clicking on the word will open a new window with a definition of that word.

Quick questions: at the end of each page is a quick question to test your understanding of that page. Type in your own answer then click on the button to show the answer that experts would give.

Roll over diagrams: many of the diagrams have highlights or sequences. You can see these by rolling your cursor over part of the picture or part of the text. The text has a roll over highlight like that.

This resource was published on the schoolscience website in August 2003.

It was written by Derek Denby, Head of Science at Leggott Sixth Form College and edited by Charles Tracy and Jenny Jones. Special thanks go to Corus and expecially former Education and Training consultant Peter Lawrance.

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