Aluminium – The Material That Changed The World

Aluminium – The Material That Changed The World

In the early days of flight, engineers relied
on building materials like wood and canvas to build their planes. The Wright Brothers
worked tirelessly to reduce the weight of their aircraft to allow it get off the ground.
They used woods with high strength to weight ratios like spruce and ash to build their
frame, but it needed to be reinforced with steel wire to prevent the frame from bending
under flight loads. The flight surfaces were covered in lightweight fabric to provide a
smooth aerodynamic surface. But one of their greatest innovations was the construction
of their engine. No engine existed at this time that matched their power to weight requirements,
so they went about inventing their own. They were the first in history to use Aluminium
as a building material for an engine, using it to construct their crankcase. They even
painted the engine black, so their competitors couldn’t see that the engine was built using
aluminium. Aluminium makes up 8% of the earth’s crust.
Despite that, it used to be one of the world’s most expensive materials. It is a difficult
material to refine. Napoleon had envisioned the lightweight metal as the perfect material
for weapons and armour, but became frustrated with the difficulty of the refining process.
Finally giving up, he had his small supply of aluminium melted down and made into cutlery
and plates to serve his most esteemed guests, while the lower ranks were resigned to the
less expensive Gold pieces. It wasn’t until the 1880s that methods capable
of mass producing the material were developed. In a few short years, aluminium went from
being the most expensive metal on Earth to one of the cheapest. Dropping in price from
$1200 per kilo in 1852 to just one dollar per kilo at the start of the 20th century.
This paved the way for the Wright Brothers to use the material in the Wright Flyer, but
the material the Wrights used was very different to the Aluminium alloys we see today. Despite
the availability of aluminium, planes throughout world war 1 continued to use wood and canvas
as their primary building materials, because the aluminium that was available back then,
was a weak and malleable. An accidental discovery of a new heat treatment
by the German scientist Alfred Wilm led to the development of an aluminium alloy strong
enough for structural use. Alfred was trying to recreate the effects of quench hardening
that is seen with iron alloys like steel, you see this process a lot in the awesome
Man at Arms series, after heating the steel between 700 and 900 degrees they will quench
the blade in oil or water, this rapidly cools the steel, which causes a crystalline structure
called martensite to form, which is much harder than the crystal structure that would form
if it was allowed to cool slowly. But this technique does not work with aluminium. As the story goes, one Friday afternoon Alfred
was testing a new alloy of aluminium he had developed, containing about 4% copper. He
followed the steps for quench hardening. He heated the metal up and allowed the heat to
evenly distributed throughout the material, he then removed the metal from the heat and
quenched it, rapidly cooling it. He then tested the material, but it showed no real sign of
improvement. Becoming frustrated he left the lab, leaving the remaining samples, resting
at room temperature over the weekend. To his amazement, when he returned the following
Monday he discovered the remaining samples had grown stronger. Alfred Wilm had just accidentally
discovered age hardening. A process that would make aluminium the world’s new wonder material. So what happened here, why did the new alloy
get stronger over time? To understand this we need to look at the metal’s crystalline
structure. This is a single aluminium atom. Now if it
is joined by more atoms they don’t just arrange randomly, they form regular patterns with
a repeating structure. Aluminum forms a repeating crystal structure called face centred cubic
which looks like this and it defines many of the properties of the material. One of
these properties is direction it most easily deforms, for example this crystal structure
deforms most easily along this plane. This is called a slip plane. Let’s look at a 2D cubic structure like
this, it can easily slip in these parallel directions, so if a force is applied here
with sufficient force each atom will shift down and the material will permanently deform,
but this material is pure aluminium. What happens when we swap some of these aluminium
atoms for copper. Copper atoms are slightly larger than aluminium
and they create internal strain when fitting into aluminium crystal lattice. When the alloy
was heated, the copper spread evenly through the material and the quenching process trapped
the copper in these locations. In these positions, the copper atoms do not provide much strength.
But over time they begin to coalesce to form these secondary crystal structures within
the main crystal structure, this is a called a second phase. These second phase particles
create barriers to deformation, for deformation to occur a much greater force is needed. In the following years Alfred perfected this
process, figuring out the ideal aging temperature and time. He dubbed his new material Duralumin
and it was used to build the world’s first all metal aircraft the Junkers J1. The impact of this age hardened aluminium
had cannot be understated, it completely transformed our world. Prior to its introduction , planes
frames were all built with rigid truss structures, like this. With aluminium at their disposal,
engineers could create a new type of flight structure, the monocoque and semi-monocoque.
With these frames the aluminium skin forms an integral part of the planes strength, not
just being used as a streamlined flight surface. These new techniques freed up space within
the planes and allowed spacious passenger planes to be developed, ushering in a new
era of travel in the world. 13% of the world’s aluminium is used by
the energy sector, even though copper is a better conductor, all main overhead power
lines use aluminium as the conducting material. To carry the same current as a copper wire
an aluminium wire needs to 1.5 times thicker and even then it is still two times lighter.
This decreases the load on pylons and allows the spans between them to increase dramatically.
This saves vasts amount of money on construction. 23 % of aluminium is used in construction.
The Empire State Building was the world’s first skyscraper to use the material extensively.
It’s corrosion resistance and lightness made it the perfect material for exterior
framing and roofing. It’s clear to see, without this material
the world we see today would be very different and only recently has aluminium started to
see competition from composite materials like carbon reinforced plastics, but that’s a
topic for another day. Thanks for watching. This video was sponsored
by the vlogbrothers. I didn’t even have to put this message at the end, but I don’t believe
in getting something for nothing. So please go check out Scishows latest video, the physics
of the rollercoaster and consider subscribing. If you have any questions feel free to ask
me in the comments and if you would like to support this channel the links for my patreon,
instagram, facebook and twitter accounts are below.


  • SDFlick619

    ALUMINUM! #Merica 🙂

  • TheDeLeG3nD

    Thanks for calling it Aluminium and not Aluminum

  • Matthijs van Duin

    0:50 You mean Napoleon III, which is not "the" Napoleon.

  • Tarquin Farquhar

    Aluminium pronounced correctly. You get a thumbs up just for that. This must mess up any Americans watching the video. Great video though. Thanks.

  • Victor Kidd

    This is the same material that I used to cover my food, and the same material that is used for planes.. dang

  • ikmarchini

    The music is too interesting and it competes with you. Dump before it overpowers you, svp.

  • Fwacer

    This is cool! I've been learning about stress-strain of materials, age hardening, and atomic structures. More interesting than the textbook for sure!

  • Marlon Ricardo

    I've never heard of aluminium

  • saurabh patil

    execellent video. There is minor correction, you have shown, FCC crystal structure, which has slip plane in plane (111) miller indices. But according to my knowledge slip plane shown in image is wrong. correct me if i'm wrong.

  • Troy Slyker

    Do a video about titanium?


    can you make a video on the topic which i am listing(CAE , cfd, shape function used is any fem problem)

  • Samuel B.

    Is this the process used in the Aluminium Alloy 2095?

  • Arnold Shortman

    It's Aluminum.

  • Owen Kennedy

    Did someone say pot metal, bloody aluminium fags
    Titanium chad out flying away at mach3

  • FreeToBe


  • Bernard Furst

    Your videos are well liked. The ratio of thumbs up vs thumbs down is one of the most favorable I've ever seen !! 19k to 139. Nice work !!

  • psychalogy

    It’s so nice to see aluminium spelled correctly on the internet for a change!

  • Jose Garnica

    WTF. My unsubscribe button was red!!!

  • mrnickbig1

    You can't even spell "aluminum" right! And, before you say something stupid, look up Englishman Sir Humphry Davy. He lived in Cornwall, I think.

  • Andrzej Ława

    Ahem… You do not pronounce the word "Junkers" as you would pronounce "junk".

  • Cziffra

    *Aluminum, mongoloid.

  • Engr. Hamza Hassan

  • latengocomoburro

    You are pronouncing aluminum wrong.

  • Kristopher Driver

    Classy 👍

  • Dave Pawson

    A six minute video teaches more about a few different things than spending hours and $$ in a class. Thanks

  • The Creeper


  • Sir Savage the 21st Yes

    imagine your house being filled with gold stuff and it being valued as cheap

  • Mitrananda Nm

    u r incredible bro……….

  • Vasiq Shair

    You da man!

  • 69imbatman

    Thanks for the video. Do you have a podcast on aerospace engineering? I’ve been following one and you sound an awful lot like the host

  • GTA Cleveland

    Jesus, its called "Aluminum" not "Aluminium".

  • Gewel ✔


  • That one

    Why are the tittles of my vids being translated?

  • Harivignesh M

    This channel is so underrated

  • Aaron Seet

    Imagine having to carry and drink from steel soda cans.

  • Lee Johnson


  • David Rosner

    Some of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century occurred by accident. These include both penicillin and age-hardened aluminum.


    4:02 You didn't explain in detail….You explained almost nothing in this video. Just gave us general knowledge. Plz explain the "why's" and "How's" of age treatment and other smaller topics like why coalescing happens, what's the reason, etc. etc. Just like you did in your video about Heat Treatment ( dat video was GOLD )

  • InMySpareTime

    Those graphs are actually toxic.

  • James Wyatt

    One of the most approachable, rapid descriptions of how copper alloying of aluminum works and what it allows. Y'all have a great series of videos, so I'm crawling them as I get some time. The dozen or two I've seen so far are well edited, quick-paced, clear, and use a balanced mixture of graphs, pictures, and such to convey things clearly.

  • SilverDax

    It's pronounced-
    Will random commenter #782 say:
    A) Yoon-kers not Junkers
    B) Aluminum not Aluminium

  • Marc JG

    It's ALUMINUM….not Alu-mini-um.

  • goranedelkowsky

    It's aluminum

  • Dhairyashil Gavali

    Great video.
    I am an Automobile Engineering graduate myself. But many of concepts I didn't understand properly enough back then, were made easier to digest due to some of your videos. For example. Most of planes and aerodynamics videos. That's very great effort from your side. Keep up the good work.👌😇👍👍

  • Mike Tries

    Subscribed! I love the video.

  • You Dare I Do

    this guy too smart for me….

  • Fazil Muhammed

    Where did you get these footages?

  • James Adams

    Charles Edward Taylor was an American inventor, mechanic and machinist. He built the first aircraft engine used by the Wright brothers in the Wright Flyer. As an aviation maintenance student i feel compelled to give credit to Charles for actually making the engine and not the wright brothers

  • Blitz Francis

    Grt … Work ….. Loved it ..pls could u do more

  • airsoft pro

    why am i dum

  • Dan

    Helium, Lithium, Beryllium, Sodium, Magnesium, Aluminium, Potassium, Calcium, Scandium, Titanium, Vanadium, Chromium, Gallium, Germanium, Selenium, etc.

    For some reason the Americans adopted the spelling and pronunciation "Aluminum".

  • Indy Roodhof

    how was aluminium discovered?

  • Joseph Kane

    I gave it a thumbs down for the words "Tickness," for thickness, "Reglar" for regular, "Duralimin" for Duraluminum, "Tirteen" for thirteen, "Ticker" for thicker and finally, even though the "British" say it and spell it with an ium, "Al -u – min – ium" instead of Aluminum, perhaps the self professed "Irish" should not!.

  • Oddman1980

    Duralumin is still used, even though it's very difficult to weld. Which is why you see aircraft riveted together.

  • Pöpli8

    It's pronounced alulululumininininiumumumum

  • shuvo shop

    story fo acrylic

  • Phil Sr

    Was aluminum invented by Alcan in BC?

  • Aditya Vaid

    aluminum is is the civilisation it helped usher..everything was stolen from the cradel of civilisation bharat..

  • jack of all

    this channel is for all engineering students!

  • Manusia Biasa

    i just realize why Germany (Deutschland) have a lot of power to fight the world in WW2. because they have lucky and great Metallurgist that found the way to made aluminium strong enough so they can made lot of airplane, or something else to develop their power. and with that power they can be one of the best country at the time. and i think nowadays they still have that power.
    thanks a lot for u information .

  • Gordon Lawrence

    Good vid. I didn't realise Dural was that old. It was a "new" material for competition cycle parts in the late 70's and early 80's.

  • Southampton Metals


  • Dame Anvil

    Not just Wright Brothers aluminium was maleable, but currently all metal is.

  • SevenDeMagnus

    Hi. Alphatek invented the aluminum metal. How'd it become transparent?

  • Zahid Ansari

    I have my material and hardware Exam this week!
    I think I should have uninstalled PUBG atleast 2 months before!
    I dont want want to repeat nor I want bad grades😢 but its too late!

  • Play Geetar

    You make amazing videos

  • Norman Hawcroft

    Great video!

  • Saskia van Houtert

    Thanks for explanation, like to hear more, thanks.

  • Miek Adriaens

    Is the video on carbon reinforced plastics still coming?

  • Tesseract 14

    It still does not belong in car engines, yes I can understand using it for something like an experimental plane, but it does not belong in a car engine that is meant to last for a while

  • Gentel Men's channel

    We Germans🇩🇪🇩🇪🇩🇪 are always advanced😎

  • OMG India! 2020

    excellent, can you explain little slower?? need more mind blowing videos like this.

  • Mel Gross

    I haven’t looked up when the Wright’s built their engine. But, Elwood Haynes, first used an aluminum engine block in his cars in the late 1890’s, possibly in 1896, or thereabouts. Haynes invented stainless steel, Stellite, an alloy with no iron used for cutting tools, the transmission, and numerous other alloys and inventions. You guys should look him up. He’s a major figure, though most people today don’t know who he is, which is a pity.

  • Sigma Geranimo

    what kind of experiment that took human to understand atom of a material ?

  • Timothy Su

    Real Engineering: Great content and Real knowledge.
    Comment Section: I love the bLuE BaCkGrOuNd.

  • Randall Fabian

    Now make it transparent Mr. Scott!

  • CyberDatum

    Aluminum: the material that led me to have an incision in my stomach because I ate it all along with chocolate then copper wires.

    Just kidding. Never happened.

  • Max Korfendagus


  • Noah Greer


  • Ash Pera

    Very cool video but you accidentally drew the FCC slip plane as {110} and not {111}

  • Chester Micek

    Charlie Taylor was the mechanic hired by the Wright Brothers to build their aluminum engine. Wilbur & Orville did everything else including a wind tunnel to test for optimal lift for their heavy aircraft. They also pioneered the shape of the propeller which turns out to be the same shape as their wing. My point is: don't forget Charlie Taylor because he was the prime mover on the design and building of the engine. I'll cite David McCullough's "The Wright Brothers" as my reference.

  • Jordan Stone


  • Invictus

    Is there anything the Germans did not invent??

  • Sociedade Etilista

    Fun fact: the airplane was invented by Alberto Santos Dumont.

  • Bob McCloud

    Aluminum is also dangerous to our bodies, autopsies of senior citizens that had severe dementia had extremely high levels of aluminum in their brains.
    It's in vaccines, deodorant body cleansers.
    Cooking pots, aluminum foil !!!
    Hospitals have it in laxatives and other things.
    It's killing us all slowly .

  • Heavens to Murgatroyd

    Don't you mean Aluminum?

  • Aaron Seet

    How would have humanity survived without the aluminium cans for our drinks? I cannot begin to imagine the horror of such an alternate history.

  • snurk agurk

    Imagine bob ross painting a canvas aircraft

  • BA_300_AAC

    Thought Charles Taylor built the wright flyers engine?

  • James England

    We don't have that here. In America, we only have aluminum.

  • deezynar

    That chart showing the experiment with aluminum alloy was wrong. The guy left the lab with other pieces of alloy still in the turned off oven. It was those pieces that cooled slowly that were stronger. The chart shows that they received another heat.

  • Official Ghost Boiiz

    🤯Dang! I’ll support your channel. Awesome presentation brother.💪😁👍


    Can’t stand to here the European pronunciation of Al atomic number 13 it hurts my ears to hear it getting old I guess to bad for you

  • tentimesful

    Good thing is it stand heat of the oven, you can use it to put pizzas and other meals on it without having to get your oven dirty…

  • Rwdphotos

    So then what’s the deal with the aluminum that ford is using in their trucks these days?

  • Patrick Rameau

    05:08 ".,.2 times lighter." Its called HALF.

  • Mat Helm

    You left out the 5 lb cap on the Washington monument being aluminum, because at the time it was more precious than gold.

  • Desmond Bagley

    …….. copper? how did the copper get there

  • Martin Ma

    Titanium and carbon fiber composites: allow us to introduce ourselves.

  • Navaghar Kiran

    I guess silicon changed the world


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