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Properties of Brass and Steel Alloys

When working with natural gas, a spark can mean danger. Brass tools are often used to reduce the chances of sparks being produced when working on metal pipes, whereas a steel hammer can produce unwanted sparks. In general, brass alloys are unlikely to produce sparks while steel alloys are more likely to generate sparks. Understanding the chemical structures of these alloys can help explain these properties.

MidAmerican Energy Des Moines Training Center for Excellence, Adel, Iowa

Driving Question

  • Why are brass tools, rather than steel tools, used in combustible environments?

Probing Questions

  • What is an “alloy”?
  • What type of alloy is brass? Steel?
  • How does the type of alloy affect the physical properties of the material?
  • How do the properties of brass make it a good choice for a combustible environment?

Classroom Suggestions

Students could:

Relevant Related Resources

Iowa Core Alignment


Plan and conduct an investigation to gather evidence to compare the structure of substances at the bulk scale to infer the strength of electrical forces between particles

Credit Info

Submitted by Kathy McGrane as part of the Iowa STEM Teacher Externship program.

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