The Structure of Metal

  • By Rick Groleau
  • Posted 04.30.02
  • NOVA

From carrying current on a computer's circuit boards to holding up skyscrapers, metal has countless uses, thanks to its special characteristics: It's hard and strong, yet it's bendable. It can be welded to other pieces of metal and rolled flat or hammered into shape. It conducts heat and electricity. It has a lustrous surface. At the atomic heart of metal is a crystalline structure—tightly packed atoms arranged in orderly rows. This feature explores this heart and reveals what it is that gives metal its special characteristics and how metal behaves under the stress of heat and outside forces.

Launch Interactive Printable Version

In this interactive, explore metal at the atomic level.

This feature originally appeared on the site for the NOVA program Building on Ground Zero.


Materials Science and Engineering: An Introduction, by William D. Callister, Jr. John Wiley & Sons, 1994

"The Nature of Metals," by A. H. Cottrell. Scientific American, September, 1967

The Science of Structures and Materials, by J. E. Gordon. Scientific American Library, 1988

Ceramics, Plastics, and Metals: An Introduction to the Science of Solids, by Richard H. Krock and Merrill L. Ebner. D.C. Heath & Co., 1965.



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