Silicon: The cleverest element on earth

The element with the atomic number of 14 in the periodic table is actually the second most abundant material on Earth.
Interesting Engineering

If one thinks about the most useful elements in the world, silicon would definitely be on that list. The element with the atomic number of 14 in the periodic table is actually the second most abundant material on Earth. A perfect and more visual example would be that all of the devices that people use today have silicon in them. 

This element is very useful, especially in the development and advancement of technology. That is why silicon plays a crucial role in the microprocessor chip industry.

Outside technology, silicon is still useful as its properties allow other atoms to bind very tightly in complex arrangements. One example is Portland cement, where silicates are used as the main binder in concrete and mortar. 

Silicon is a semiconductor, allowing it to have increased conductivity when mixed with other materials like phosphorus or boron. This makes it the “king” of the chip industry materials, but currently, there is a shortage of chips.

It is considered digital gold as the tech world has continuously used the material since the first commercial silicon transistor was announced in 1954. But how is silicon obtained?

The material comes from silica sand mixed with carbon that is melted to temperatures above 3632°F (2000°C) to remove oxygen. It is then cast in the form of an ingot which will be sliced into thin wafers that are processed inside factories, creating chips. 

There are two types of chips. First are the logic chips, which process information to complete a task. Next are the memory chips, which store information.

There are 7.26 billion mobile phone users, and 6.64 billion are smartphone users. Such an advancement in technology and access to it wouldn’t be possible without silicon. In electronics, this metalloid must be 99 in purity. Given the enormous demand for silicon, the world having 9.14 square kilometers of combined silicon wafers as of 2021 shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

The heavy dependence on technology in using silicon should be something to look out for. Scientists are currently looking for alternatives that may be used in the future. Regardless of silicon being one of the most abundant materials on Earth, it would definitely be better to have some backup. After all, one of the most important lessons learned from the Covid pandemic is to always be prepared. 

For now, let us enjoy the advancements made possible by the cleverest element here on Earth.