Heads up: This question has never been asked (here) before the way I will ask it here, so let's shed some light on it a bit.
Prelude and anecdote(can be skipped): The other day I was walking home, and I passed a stop sign. I looked at it and asked myself, "What kind of atoms make up this macro-sized metal-like object that visible light enables my eyes to see, which are also atoms I don't know?"
So I thought to myself ... I really should go to physics.stackexchange.com to ask this. They have so many great people there who volunteer their time and help without any immediate financial gain, and there is some very smart people there who are open-minded, and know that repetition is key to success.
So here I am ... my question is how do you know what materials are composed of?
I ask this because:
1.There are no "grab and go" ways to quickly check out what atoms something is made of. How would I, as a curious person that I am who's into science in all respects, determine what the world is around me?
2.The tools needed to do this don't come cheap ... how could I, by using cheaper tools or techniques, determine what kind of atoms, molecules/chemical compounds, determine which exact atoms make up the things visible light enables me to see around me?
I would like to look at something and go beyond just "It's plastic-like", but actually dig down to which monomer, polymer, or molecular structure it is, and how I can break it down to the individual atoms.
Please ... I ask this with all respect, all seriousness, and all desire to want to further know the materials, compounds, and structures of the objects around me.