silicon, nonmetallic chemical element; symbol Si; at. no. 14; interval in which at. wt. ranges 28.084–28.086; m.p. 1,410°C; b.p. 2,355°C; sp. gr. 2.33 at 25°C; valence usually +4. Silicon is the element directly below carbon and above germanium in Group 14 of the periodic table. It is more metallic in its properties than carbon; in many ways it resembles germanium. Silicon has two allotropic forms, a brown amorphous form, and a dark crystalline form. The crystalline form has a structure like diamond and the physical properties given above. Silicon forms compounds with metals (silicides) and with nonmetals. With carbon it forms silicon carbide; with oxygen a dioxide, silica; with oxygen and metals, silicates. With hydrogen it forms several hydrides or silanes, the simplest being monosilane, SiH4, a colorless gas. It also forms compounds with the halogens, sulfur, and nitrogen and forms numerous organo-silicon compounds. Silicon is the second most abundant element of the earth's crust; it makes up about 28% of the crust by weight. Oxygen, most abundant, makes up about 47%. Aluminum, third in abundance, makes up about 8%. Silicon is widely distributed, occurring in silica and silicates, but never uncombined. Silicon is obtained commercially by heating sand and coke in an electric furnace. It is used in the steel industry in an alloy known as ferrosilicon, and also to form other alloys, such as those with aluminum, copper, and manganese; in these alloys it contributes hardness and corrosion resistance. A purified silicon is used in the preparation of silicones. Silicon of very high purity is prepared by thermal decomposition of silanes; it is used in transistors and other semiconductor devices. Silica is widely used in the production of glass. Silicates in the form of clay are used in pottery, brick, tile, and other ceramics. Silicon is found in many plants and animals; it is a major component of the test (cell wall) of diatoms. Silicosis is a lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust. Discovery of the element is usually credited to J. J. Berzelius, who in 1824 prepared fairly pure amorphous silicon.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
More on silicon from Fact Monster:
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Compounds and Elements