Metallic substance composed of two or more elements, as either a mixture, compound, or solid solution. The components of alloys are ordinarily themselves metals, though carbon is an essential nonmetal component of steel. Alloys are usually produced by melting the mixture of ingredients. The value of alloys was discovered in very ancient times; brass (copper and zinc) and bronze (copper and tin) were especially important. Today the most important are the alloy steels, which have a wide range of special properties, including hardness, toughness, corrosion resistance, magnetizability, and workability.
Learn more about alloy with a free trial on Britannica.com.
An alloy is a solid solution or homogeneous mixture of two or more elements, at least one of which is a metal, which itself has metallic properties. It usually has different properties from those of its component elements.
Alloying one metal with others often enhances its properties. For instance, steel is stronger than iron, its primary element. The physical properties, such as density, reactivity, Young's modulus, and electrical and thermal conductivity, of an alloy may not differ greatly from those of its elements, but engineering properties, such as tensile strength and shear strength may be substantially different from those of the constituent materials. This is sometimes due to the sizes of the atoms in the alloy, since larger atoms exert a compressive force on neighboring atoms, and smaller atoms exert a tensile force on their neighbors, helping the alloy resist deformation. Alloys may exhibit marked differences in behavior even when small amounts of one element occur. For example, impurities in semi-conducting ferromagnetic alloys lead to different properties, as first predicted by White, Hogan, Suhl, Tian Abrie and Nakamura. Some alloys are made by melting and mixing two or more metals. Brass is an alloy made from copper and zinc. Bronze, used for bearings, statues, ornaments and church bells, is an alloy of tin and copper.
Unlike pure metals, most alloys do not have a single melting point. Instead, they have a melting range in which the material is a mixture of solid and liquid phases. The temperature at which melting begins is called the solidus and the temperature when melting is complete is called the liquidus. However, for most alloys there is a particular proportion of constituents which give them a single melting point or (rarely) two. This is called the alloy's eutectic mixture.
The term "alloy" is sometime used in everyday speech as a synonym for a particular alloy. For example, automobile wheels made of aluminium alloy are commonly referred to as simply "alloy wheels". The usage is obviously indefinite, since steels and most other metals in practical use are also alloys.