Ceramics typically include a combination of ionic and covalent bonds to form a material with high modulus and hardness, high melting point, high thermal expansion and corrosion resistance. Because these materials may be brittle, fracture toughness is also an important mechanical property. Composites are made from two or more materials with different mechanical properties that produce a desired set of properties when combined.
Advanced ceramic and composite materials are applied to many industries, including automotive, renewable or alternative energy, healthcare, electronics, and aerospace.
The microstructure of ceramic material can be characterized using scanning electron microscopy (SEM). A backscattered electron detector (BSD) image indicates material differences with heavier elements brighter in the SEM image compared to lighter elements. This contrast provides easy thresholding to determine grain sizes and coverage.
Elements can be identified and material stoichiometry measured using energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) with Scanning Electron Microscopes for elemental analysis.
Mechanical properties are measured using microhardness testing or nanoindentation, depending upon the required load. These properties can then be correlated back to ceramic microstructure.
Atomic force microscopy provides material properties on the nanoscale, using advanced modes to measure viscoelasticity, piezoelectricity or relative compliance.