Ceramics are classified as inorganic and nonmetallic materials that are essential to our daily lifestyle. Ceramic and materials engineers are the people who design the processes in which these products can be made, create new types of ceramic products, and find different uses for ceramic products in everyday life.
Ceramics are all around us. This category of materials includes things like tile, bricks, plates, glass, and toilets. Ceramics can be found in products like watches (quartz tuning forks-the time keeping devices in watches), snow skies (piezoelectric-ceramics that stress when a voltage is applied to them), automobiles (sparkplugs and ceramic engine parts found in racecars), and phone lines. They can also be found on space shuttles, appliances (enamel coatings), and airplanes (nose cones). Depending on their method of formation, ceramics can be dense or lightweight. Typically, they will demonstrate excellent strength and hardness properties; however, they are often brittle in nature. Ceramics can also be formed to serve as electrically conductive materials, objects allowing electricity to pass through their mass, or insulators, materials preventing the flow of electricity. Some ceramics, like superconductors, also display magnetic properties.
Ceramics are generally made by taking mixtures of clay, earthen elements, powders, and water and shaping them into desired forms. Once the ceramic has been shaped, it is fired in a high temperature oven known as a kiln. Often, ceramics are covered in decorative, waterproof, paint-like substances known as glazes.