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Silicon is the second most common element on Earth and one of the main materials for semiconductors. It is used in many different applications from metallurgy to photovoltaics and microelectronics.
Silicon atoms have four bonding electrons, similar to the configuration of a carbon atom. They are tetravalent, which means that they can easily donate or share their four electrons with other atoms. This has important consequences for chemical bonds and a number of properties of the material, including its electrical conductivity and dielectric strength.
Its name came from the Latin word silicia, meaning “pebble”. In addition to being the key component of glass and concrete, silicon has made significant contributions to the economy and world’s lifestyle through its use as a substrate for power transistors in the 1940s and 1950s and the development of integrated circuits (IC) in the 1960s.
Silicates and siloxanes
Although silicon is in Group 14 of the periodic table, it has a very different chemistry from carbon. This is because silicon does not form long bonds, silane chains, or rings the way carbon does. Its chemistry is more like the alternating -Si-O- structure found in many rocks and minerals.
Synthetic polymers derived from silicon, more properly called silicones, are colourless rubber or oil-like substances. This is due to the cyclosiloxane (-R2Si-O-SiR2-) group that makes up the backbone of the material.
Silicones are useful in many applications, such as adhesives and sealants. They can also be used in lubricants, cooking utensils, medicine and in electrical and thermal insulations.