Silicon is found in sand and in our computers
Silicon is the second most common element on Earth. You might have noticed this element on the periodic table, as Si
Silicon has many different functions. You stand on it at the beach. Heated up, silica sand forms glass. This same material allows our computers to work. Silicon is a building block. It is used to make bricks and electronics. This material supports our tech world today. It also has a place in the electrical and medical worlds of our future.
Silicon is a good semiconductor, a material that sometimes conducts electricity
A semiconductor is a material that sometimes conducts electricity and sometimes does not. Silicon is a metalloid
; something between a metal and a non-metal. Like a metal, silicon conducts electricity. However, it only conducts if the voltage is high enough. Otherwise, it does not. This makes it a semiconductor
Unlike most metals, silicon becomes a better conductor as temperatures rise. A silicon semiconductor is used in transistors
to switch electrical currents.
Transistors were made of germanium until the 1950s. Then, silicon took over. Silicon transistors are superior. Silicon is physically strong. It becomes a better electrical conductor at higher temperatures. Therefore, if a silicon transistor heats up, it can still operate. Thanks to silicon, we can control the electrical conductivity of a transistor. Before silicon can become an effective conductor, it must first be chemically altered. To do this, we add impurities
. Small amounts of other elements are hurled at silicon. These elements bond to the silicon and free some electrons. The free electrons can now move throughout the silicon. They carry the electric current.
Transistors are the building blocks of modern calculators, cell phones, and computers. As you can imagine, silicon is extremely important in this age of technology.
Many Silicon Valley companies use silicon in their technology products
The area of Silicon Valley is named after silicon. Silicon plays a large role in the tech world. This region is home to many famous companies. Apple, Facebook, and Intel operate here. The Silicon Valley is the largest high tech manufacturing area in the U.S. It has the highest average salary for tech jobs. Consequently, the Silicon Valley is known to be a center for innovation and success. And guess what! The transistor, which relies on silicon, is the historic backbone of Silicon Valley.
In 1974, Intel released the first usable microprocessor. Think of a microprocessor as a “computer on a chip”. This chip contained all of the main functions of a computer on one tiny circuit. Silicon was the backbone of this chip. Today, computers and even smartphones contain these chips.
Transistors are an important part of microchips. Microchips are made of transistors. The transistors do the computing work of a chip. A transistor acts like a switch. It can be turned on and off. Everything on a chip is also attached to silicon. It acts as a good semiconductor.
With new advances, chips and transistors have shrunk. A chip used to only hold a few dozen transistors. Today, some chips contain several billion! And keep in mind that most chips are the size of a grain of rice. Also, the transistors on these chips are so small that they are invisible to the naked eye.
Different forms of silicon are used in construction and manufacturing
In nature, you will find silicate
materials. These are often used in construction. Silicate is made of silicon
. It makes up 90% of the Earth’s crust. You can find this material in cement and concrete. Many houses contain a good deal of silicate.
Silica is also made of silicon and oxygen. It is the main ingredient of traditional glass, optical fibers, and fiberglass. The windows of your house and glass items inside are made of silicon.
Silicon can also be made into polymers. Polymers are large molecules made of repeating monomers. Silicon polymers are called silicones
. Silicones are used to bond glass to other compounds. Silicones have many important functions. They can be used as waterproof treatments and mechanical seals. Silicones can also be found in explosives and contact lenses.
Silicon will be used in electronics and medicine of the future
The chemist Jons Jacob Berzelius first isolated silicon in 1824. He heated silica with potassium to obtain pure silicon. Today, we get silicon by heating silica with carbon. Sand is used, since silica and silicon are the main ingredients of sand.
Silicon is a good material to use in electronics is because it resists heat well. If a computer heats up, then the silicon will not overheat. For this same reason, silicon is used in simpler products that encounter heat. A few examples are oven mitts and baking sheets.
Looking forward, silicon has a place in our future. New electronic gadgets will contain silicon. The latest computer or GPS will run on a silicon chip.
In the medical field, doctors are experimenting with using electronic devices. These could possibly treat disorders in the brain. A new technology is the “neuro-chip”. The neuro-chip is a silicon chip attached to a brain cell. More than 16,000 transistors fit onto this tiny “neuro-chip”. Also, neuro-chips can help with the screening of drugs.
Silicon is also used to create nanoneedles
. These needles are so tiny that they can be inserted into the nucleus, or center, of a cell. Biologists use nanoneedles to deliver compounds to cells. Proteins can be delivered with nanoneedles. This is helpful for tracking and treating diseases. Biodegradable silicon is used to make the needles. This lets them decay in the body. Such decay ensures that no harmful toxins will be remain to hurt a patient.
Silicon allowed our lives to advance
Silicon has allowed our lives to advance. Technology now works better and quicker. The companies of the Silicon Valley rely on silicon. If you use modern technology, you do as well. Whether you cruised the web or stood in a concrete building today, you benefited from silicon.