What is a material?

A material is any substance that has a name

examples: chalk, paper, wood, iron, air, water, clay, plastic, rubber, stone, leather, wax

See a list of more materials

Eveything is made up of materials

When we want to make something we need to chose the best material for the job.

In order to do this we need to know the properties of the material.

Properties of materials

A property of a material is something about it that we can measure, see or feel

Examples of different properties





Light in weight















Conduct electricity

Electrical insulator

Conductor of heat

Thermal (heat) insulator

Burns when heated

Does not burn

Melts easily

Does not melt easily

Different objects are made out of different materials.

We need to chose the material with best properties for the job.

Example: Looking at the different materials in a bicycle

The saddle is made from leather or thin plastic because they are both smooth, strong and flexible. The frame is made from metal because metals are strong and hard. The tyre is made from rubber because rubber is soft, flexible and grips the road well.

Click on each label to find what it is made from

The saddle is covered in leather or thin plastic
because they are both smooth and flexible. Inside, the saddle is often fillled with spong because sponge can be compressed.

The tyre needs to grip the road, be flexible and easily moulded so rubber is the best choice .

The frame needs to be strong and rigid so we chose a metal.

Which metal we chose depends on how much we want to pay

Blue = object
Red = material

Purple = property.

Do you know which metals are usually used?
Scroll down to find out.


Metals that can be used to make a bicycle frame

Iron. The cheaper bicycles use iron. Iron is strong but is also heavy and rusts easily. The frame will usually be painted to stop it going rusty.

Aluminium. Aluminium is much lighter than iron but is also more expensive. It does not rust so does not need to be painted. It is not as strong as iron so an aluminium frame is usually thicker.

Tungsten Much stronger than aluminium but lighter than iron. It also does not rust. Very expensive!

Carbon fibre. This is a very modern material and is not a metal at all.
It is strong and very light weight. Slightly more flexible than metals and very expensive (also used for top of the range tennis rackets)

Materials can be placed into groups:

Metals Shiny, conduct electricity and heat, strong, often heavy Girders, Bicycle frames, Electric wires, Tools, Saucepans and good quality cuttlery.
Ceramics Substances made from pottery. They have been ‘fired’ at some stage in their manufacture.
They look attractive, do not burn or melt but are usually brittle and break easily
Tiles, kitchen plates, good quality cups
Plastics Plastics usually melt or burn easily,.
They are not very strong but can easily made into different shapes.
They arecheap to produce and are good electrical insulators
Washing up bowls, covering to electric wire, plugs, cheap cuttlery, containers for food
Glass :Glass looks attractive and can eaily be made into different shapes.
Transparent, Is not effected by liquids.
Brittle but hard. (Breaks easily but will not easily scratch)
Windows, mirrors, glasses, bottles
Wood Cuts easily and can be polished so it is shiny.
Looks attractive
Furniture, building materials