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Alloys are metallic materials that include at least one metal and another element. Often, the other components of an alloy are also metals, although various alloys contain non-metallic elements, such as carbon, silicon, sulfur and boron. Common alloys used are stainless steel, which is a combination of iron, chromium and nickel; brass, a combination of zinc and copper; bronze, a combination of tin and copper (sometimes aluminum); and sterling silver, a combination of copper and silver. Even among these common alloys, there are a large number of possible combinations, each with its own specific set of properties. Steel, for example, exists in an incredibly diverse range of alloys, including silicon steel, tool steel and surgical stainless steel.

Modern alloys can achieve a number of properties not possible even fifty years ago. Superalloys, for example, can now withstand temperatures far in excess of those first produced. Even metallic glass alloys can now be produced; the first of these was a gold-silicon alloy produced in 1957, but many new types are now possible, with more on the horizon. Some of the major reasons for the continuing advances in alloys are the availability of materials, new manufacturing techniques, and the ability to “test” alloys before they are ever produced. Most modern alloys are, in fact, preplanned using sophisticated computer simulations, which help determine what properties the alloy will display.

Alloys are produced through a staggering variety of methods, from ancient steelmaking techniques to electric induction furnaces. They can be produced by both hot and cold processes (provided sufficient pressure is applied), depending on the materials involved and the complexity of the alloy. Uses for alloys are limitless, and include an extensive range of marine, medical, military, commercial, industrial, residential and manufacturing applications. Even brass and bronze, two of the earliest alloys produced, still have extensive uses, and remain in high demand.

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