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University of Cambridge
Composite material
A composite material (also called a composition material or shortened to composite, which is the common name) is a material made from two or more constituent materials with significantly different physical or chemical properties that, when combined, produce a material with characteristics different from the individual components. The individual components remain separate and distinct within the finished structure, differentiating composites from mixtures and solid solutions.

Wattle and daub is one of the oldest man-made composite materials, at over 6000 years old. Concrete is also a composite material, and is used more than any other man-made material in the world. As of 2006, about 7.5 billion cubic metres of concrete are made each year´more than one cubic metre for every person on Earth.

Fibre-reinforced polymers (FRP)s include carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer (CFRP) and glass-reinforced plastic (GRP). If classified by matrix then there are thermoplastic composites, short fibre thermoplastics, long fibre thermoplastics or long fibre-reinforced thermoplastics. There are numerous thermoset composites, including paper composite panels. Many advanced thermoset polymer matrix systems usually incorporate aramid fibre and carbon fibre in an epoxy resin matrix.

High strain composites are another type of high-performance composites that are designed to perform in a high deformation setting and are often used in deployable systems where structural flexing is advantageous. Although high strain composites exhibit many similarities to shape memory polymers, their performance is generally dependent on the fibre layout as opposed to the resin content of the matrix.

Carbon composite is a key material in today's launch vehicles and heat shields for the re-entry phase of spacecraft. It is widely used in solar panel substrates, antenna reflectors and yokes of spacecraft. It is also used in payload adapters, inter-stage structures and heat shields of launch vehicles. Furthermore, disk brake systems of airplanes and racing cars are using carbon/carbon material, and the composite material with carbon fibres and silicon carbide matrix has been introduced in luxury vehicles and sports cars.

Composites are made up of individual materials referred to as constituent materials. There are two main categories of constituent materials: matrix (binder) and reinforcement. At least one portion of each type is required. The matrix material surrounds and supports the reinforcement materials by maintaining their relative positions. The reinforcements impart their special mechanical and physical properties to enhance the matrix properties. A synergism produces material properties unavailable from the individual constituent materials, while the wide variety of matrix and strengthening materials allows the designer of the product or structure to choose an optimum combination.

Polyester resin tends to have yellowish tint, and is suitable for most backyard projects. Its weaknesses are that it is UV sensitive and can tend to degrade over time, and thus generally is also coated to help preserve it. It is often used in the making of surfboards and for marine applications. Its hardener is a peroxide, often MEKP (methyl ethyl ketone peroxide). When the peroxide is mixed with the resin, it decomposes to generate free radicals, which initiate the curing reaction. Hardeners in these systems are commonly called catalysts, but since they do not re-appear unchanged at the end of the reaction, they do not fit the strictest chemical definition of a catalyst.

Fibre-reinforced composite materials can be divided into two main categories normally referred to as short fibre-reinforced materials and continuous fiber-reinforced materials. Continuous reinforced materials will often constitute a layered or laminated structure. The woven and continuous fiber styles are typically available in a variety of forms, being pre-impregnated with the given matrix (resin), dry, uni-directional tapes of various widths, plain weave, harness satins, braided, and stitched.