Eutectic is a word which is used in reference to a mixture which contains two or more components in proportions which allow them to solidify at the same temperature. The point at which the components start to solidify is known as the eutectic point. Eutectics have a number of applications, most particularly in the field of metalworking, where they are popular in the form of alloys used for things such as soldering and casting.
It is not always possible to achieve a eutectic mixture. It is necessary to adjust the ratio of components in the mixture and to closely control the components for impurities which could imbalance the mixture and throw off the solidification point. In the case of a metal alloy, the components start out as heated liquids, and during the cooling of the liquid, the components start to crystallize and solidify at the same time as they reach the eutectic point.
The structure of a eutectic mixture tends to be lamellar in nature, with the materials layering over each other as they crystallize out of the liquid mixture and start to solidify. This can contribute to the strength of the cooled solid, as the layers of material are less likely to crack and separate. The simultaneous crystallization also ensures that the distribution of components in the mixture is highly even in nature, which can also be beneficial to strength. It is possible to see the structure of the mixture with the assistance of a microscope, and microscopy can also be used to determine whether or not the mixture of components is even.
There are numerous examples of eutectic mixtures beyond metal alloys. Salt and ice, for example, can form a eutectic mixture, as can many chemical compounds used in the pharmaceutical industry. Eutectic mixtures also play a role in cooking and food preparation, as anyone who has had a baking recipe go disastrously wrong is probably well aware. In all of these cases, the properties of the eutectic mixture play an important role in the properties of the finished solid component.
Information about well known eutectics and their eutectic points are readily available on the Internet and in industry reference materials. Information about metal alloys in particular is very widely distributed, as many people work with alloys and need to have information about their properties to make decisions about when and where to use specific alloys. Packaged alloy products also usually contain a brief overview of their properties, as seen with solders.