Functional and Engineering Ceramics

Unit code: MATS64441
Credit Rating: 15
Unit level: Level 6
Teaching period(s): Semester 1
Offered by School of Materials
Available as a free choice unit?: N




The unit aims to introduce students to the important classes of inorganic materials used in structural/mechanical and functional applications and to enable them to appreciate:

(i)  the difficulties in using inherently brittle materials in structural applications,

(ii) the benefits of controlled inhomogeneity in materials for structural applications, and

(iii) the interaction between processing, microstructure and properties of these materials.


The unit provides an overview of the important classes of inorganic materials used in structural and functional applications.

Teaching and learning methods

Facilitated learning activities                                                                    40 hrs

(Including lectures, tutorials and workshops)


Independent learning activities                                                                110 hrs

(Including individual/group work and private study)

Learning outcomes

A greater depth of the learning outcomes will be covered in the following sections:

  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Intellectual skills
  • Practical skills
  • Transferable skills and personal qualities

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand the primary role of defects in controlling the strength of brittle materials and be able to state the relative size of defects produced by different mechanisms.
  • Describe the sources of these defects and how they form during processing and service.
  • Understanding of the mechanisms of slow crack growth in ceramic materials, how this reduces life in service, and how this information can be used along with Weibull Statistics to produce Strength-Probability-Time diagrams.
  • Describe the microstructures of important engineering ceramics (Al2O3, SiC, Si3N4 and ZrO2) and how these control the resulting mechanical properties.
  • Describe the mechanisms of operation and the processes of conduction in voltage dependent resistors and temperature-sensitive resistors.
  • Describe the factors controlling the dielectric properties of high frequency dielectrics and their dependence on processing conditions.
  • Describe the factors controlling the piezoelectric properties of oxide ceramics and their dependence on composition and processing conditions.
  • Describe the detection mechanisms in semiconducting gas sensors and identify factors limiting their performance.
  • Describe the principles of operation of fuel cells, and discuss factors limiting their performance.

Intellectual skills

  • Perform point defect chemistry calculations for simple oxides.
  • Process experimental data for dielectric and semiconducting ceramics to determine important material parameters.

Practical skills

  • Use Weibull statistics to predict failure probability in objects containing a simple stress distribution

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Problem solving skills
  • Analytical capability

Assessment methods

  • Written exam - 70%
  • Written assignment (inc essay) - 30%

Recommended reading

A.J. Moulson and J .Herbert, Electroceramics, 2nd Ed. (Wiley, 2003)

S.M.Sze, Semiconductor Devices, Physics and Technology,2nd Ed (Wiley International, 2001).

Y-M Chiang, D.P. Birnie and W.D. Kingery, Physical Ceramics (Principles for Ceramic Science and Engineering), Wiley, 1996.

D.J Green, An Introduction to the Mechanical Properties of Ceramics (Cambridge University Press, 1998)

B Lawn, Fracture of Brittle Solids, 2nd Edition (Cambridge University Press, 1993)

W.E Lee and M Rainforth, Ceramic Microstructures (Chapman and Hall, 1994)

Feedback methods

Within 2 weeks of submission (on scripts and in class)

Study hours

  • Lectures - 30 hours
  • Independent study hours - 120 hours

Teaching staff

Aravind Vijayaraghavan - Unit coordinator

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