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The science behind wheeled sports
The science behind wheeled sports

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3.1 The structure of carbon fibre

There is a reason that a material like carbon fibre can be strong and lightweight at the same time. It is related to the atoms that make up these materials, and the way that these atoms bond together.

The next activity introduces some ideas about the physical structure of material, using the example of carbon fibre.

Activity 4 Properties of materials

Timing: (The estimated time needed to complete this activity is 40 minutes.)

Material structure [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Please note: this activity may take a few seconds to download.


The main points from the activity were:

  • The number of atoms that any individual atom can bind to depends on the type of atom
    • hydrogen atoms can bind to, at most, one other atom, oxygen to two atoms and carbon to four atoms.
  • Atoms in molecules bind to each other to make a self-contained individual particle.
  • Atoms in solid materials bind to each other to make a continuous three-dimensional structure.
  • The properties of solid materials depend on the type of atoms in the material and its internal structure: i.e. the way that atoms are bound inside the material.
  • Important material properties include density, strength, flexibility and hardness.
  • Graphite, diamond and carbon fibre are three different types of solid carbon material. The difference in their properties arises because of the difference in the carbon bonds within each material.