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.


  1. Jelly Penguin said:


    April 28, 2018
  2. Marius Loubeeka said:

    You forgot to mention that the production progress is not environmentally friendly.
    Furthermore, it is toxic if gets inside your body. It can cause cancer (e.g. breast cancer from deodorants) and dementia. No organisms are known to use it as trace element in their biochemical processes. (Source: German/French TV documentary "Die Akte Aluminium")

    April 29, 2018
  3. leif forrest said:

    First it was named 'alumium', then called 'aluminum', after that, 'aluminium'. So 'aluminum' is the second most correct, 'aluminium' the third most. so who still calls it 'alumium'? They're the most correct.

    April 30, 2018
  4. Kole Tromp said:

    Fanominal informative videos, wouldn't be surprised if these were used in education in the future!

    May 2, 2018
  5. gabriellgardin said:

    Santos Dumont inveted the airplane!!!

    May 2, 2018
  6. Epi Endless said:

    Ironically, the British scientist (Humphry Davy) who named the stuff called it 'Aluminum'. Then another British scientist (Thomas Young) took the liberty of renaming it 'Aluminium'.

    That caught on, and even more ironically, the Americans called it 'Aluminium' while the British occasionally insisted on calling it 'Aluminum'.

    In 1828 American lexicographer Noah Webster reverted to 'Aluminum' in his dictionary, which caught on in the non-scientific portion of America, while scientists worldwide continue to use 'Aluminium'.

    May 6, 2018
  7. Old *SS Account said:

    I just came here to listen to him say aluminum. You guys in the uk are funny:)

    May 22, 2018
  8. SDFlick619 said:

    ALUMINUM! #Merica 🙂

    May 23, 2018
  9. TheDeLeG3nD said:

    Thanks for calling it Aluminium and not Aluminum

    May 31, 2018
  10. Matthijs van Duin said:

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

    June 10, 2018
  11. Tarquin Farquhar said:

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

    June 12, 2018
  12. Victor Kidd said:

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

    June 16, 2018
  13. ikmarchini said:

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

    June 27, 2018
  14. Fwacer said:

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

    June 29, 2018
  15. Marlon Ricardo said:

    I've never heard of aluminium

    June 29, 2018
  16. saurabh patil said:

    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.

    July 12, 2018
  17. Troy Slyker said:

    Do a video about titanium?

    July 18, 2018
  18. SANDEEP MANDAL said:

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

    July 19, 2018
  19. Samuel B. said:

    Is this the process used in the Aluminium Alloy 2095?

    July 22, 2018
  20. Arnold Shortman said:

    It's Aluminum.

    July 26, 2018
  21. Owen Kennedy said:

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

    July 30, 2018
  22. FreeToBe said:


    July 30, 2018
  23. Bernard Furst said:

    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 !!

    August 22, 2018
  24. psychalogy said:

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

    August 27, 2018
  25. Jose Garnica said:

    WTF. My unsubscribe button was red!!!

    September 11, 2018
  26. mrnickbig1 said:

    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.

    September 11, 2018
  27. Andrzej Ława said:

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

    September 15, 2018
  28. Cziffra said:

    *Aluminum, mongoloid.

    September 18, 2018
  29. Engr. Hamza Hassan said:

    September 18, 2018
  30. latengocomoburro said:

    You are pronouncing aluminum wrong.

    September 22, 2018
  31. Kristopher Driver said:

    Classy 👍

    September 24, 2018
  32. Dave Pawson said:

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

    September 24, 2018
  33. The Creeper said:


    September 24, 2018
  34. Sir Savage the 21st Yes said:

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

    September 25, 2018
  35. Mitrananda Nm said:

    u r incredible bro……….

    September 26, 2018
  36. Vasiq Shair said:

    You da man!

    October 1, 2018
  37. 69imbatman said:

    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

    October 2, 2018
  38. GTA Cleveland said:

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

    October 6, 2018
  39. Gewel ✔ said:


    October 6, 2018
  40. That one said:

    Why are the tittles of my vids being translated?

    October 7, 2018
  41. Harivignesh M said:

    This channel is so underrated

    October 16, 2018
  42. Aaron Seet said:

    Imagine having to carry and drink from steel soda cans.

    November 5, 2018
  43. Lee Johnson said:


    November 17, 2018
  44. David Rosner said:

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

    December 3, 2018

    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 )

    December 3, 2018
  46. InMySpareTime said:

    Those graphs are actually toxic.

    December 7, 2018
  47. James Wyatt said:

    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.

    December 9, 2018
  48. SilverDax said:

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

    December 15, 2018
  49. Marc JG said:

    It's ALUMINUM….not Alu-mini-um.

    December 28, 2018
  50. goranedelkowsky said:

    It's aluminum

    January 2, 2019
  51. Dhairyashil Gavali said:

    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.👌😇👍👍

    January 11, 2019
  52. Mike Tries said:

    Subscribed! I love the video.

    January 11, 2019
  53. You Dare I Do said:

    this guy too smart for me….

    January 13, 2019
  54. Fazil Muhammed said:

    Where did you get these footages?

    January 15, 2019
  55. James Adams said:

    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

    January 16, 2019
  56. Blitz Francis said:

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

    January 20, 2019
  57. airsoft pro said:

    why am i dum

    January 21, 2019
  58. Dan said:

    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".

    January 22, 2019
  59. Indy Roodhof said:

    how was aluminium discovered?

    January 23, 2019
  60. Joseph Kane said:

    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!.

    January 28, 2019
  61. Oddman1980 said:

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

    January 31, 2019
  62. Pöpli8 said:

    It's pronounced alulululumininininiumumumum

    February 1, 2019
  63. shuvo shop said:

    story fo acrylic

    February 4, 2019
  64. Phil Sr said:

    Was aluminum invented by Alcan in BC?

    February 7, 2019
  65. Aditya Vaid said:

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

    February 8, 2019
  66. jack of all said:

    this channel is for all engineering students!

    February 9, 2019
  67. Manusia Biasa said:

    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 .

    February 9, 2019
  68. Gordon Lawrence said:

    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.

    February 13, 2019
  69. Southampton Metals said:


    February 15, 2019
  70. Dame Anvil said:

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

    February 20, 2019
  71. hnoerdli said:

    @Real Engineering
    Okay, I want to know how you learned this? I would love to understand your thought process. How do you break an unknown subject down? How long did it take you to put this video together?

    March 12, 2019
  72. SevenDeMagnus said:

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

    March 30, 2019
  73. Zahid Ansari said:

    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!

    April 13, 2019
  74. Play Geetar said:

    You make amazing videos

    April 16, 2019
  75. Norman Hawcroft said:

    Great video!

    April 29, 2019
  76. Saskia van Houtert said:

    Thanks for explanation, like to hear more, thanks.

    June 10, 2019
  77. Miek Adriaens said:

    Is the video on carbon reinforced plastics still coming?

    June 10, 2019
  78. Tesseract 14 said:

    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

    June 13, 2019
  79. Gentel Men's channel said:

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

    June 19, 2019
  80. OMG India! 2020 said:

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

    June 21, 2019
  81. Mel Gross said:

    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.

    June 30, 2019
  82. Sigma Geranimo said:

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

    July 10, 2019
  83. Timothy Su said:

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

    July 12, 2019
  84. Randall Fabian said:

    Now make it transparent Mr. Scott!

    July 14, 2019
  85. CyberDatum said:

    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.

    July 18, 2019
  86. Max Korfendagus said:


    July 20, 2019
  87. Noah Greer said:


    July 22, 2019
  88. Ash Pera said:

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

    July 22, 2019
  89. Chester Micek said:

    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.

    July 22, 2019
  90. Jordan Stone said:


    July 24, 2019
  91. Invictus said:

    Is there anything the Germans did not invent??

    July 25, 2019
  92. Sociedade Etilista said:

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

    July 26, 2019
  93. Bob McCloud said:

    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 .

    July 31, 2019
  94. Heavens to Murgatroyd said:

    Don't you mean Aluminum?

    August 9, 2019
  95. Aaron Seet said:

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

    August 12, 2019
  96. snurk agurk said:

    Imagine bob ross painting a canvas aircraft

    August 13, 2019
  97. BA_300_AAC said:

    Thought Charles Taylor built the wright flyers engine?

    August 15, 2019
  98. James England said:

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

    August 18, 2019
  99. deezynar said:

    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.

    September 9, 2019
  100. Official Ghost Boiiz said:

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

    September 10, 2019

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