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20 Interesting Facts About Silicon

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  • icon2 January 12, 2024
  • icon3 WaferPro
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As a premier silicon wafer company, we at WaferPro work intimately with silicon each day. From molten polysilicon to perfect monocrystalline boules, we know this element inside out. Silicon’s mix of abundance, semiconductor properties, and manufacturability has made it the cornerstone of modern electronics. Read on below to learn 20 interesting facts about Silicon.

I. Silicon Abundance & Role in Nature

1. Silicon Makes Up Over a Quarter of Earth’s Crust

The tenth most abundant element in the universe, silicon accounts for over 25% of the Earth’s crust by mass. Only oxygen beats it in natural abundance. This makes silicon more plentiful than materials like aluminum or iron.

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2. Silicon Resides in Common Minerals & Rocks

In nature, silicon readily bonds with oxygen to form silica (silicon dioxide) and silicates – minerals comprising over 90% of Earth’s crust. Quartz, feldspar, mica and clays are all examples of common rocks loaded with silicon.

Table 1 - Abundant Silicate Minerals

Mineral Chemical Formula Natural Forms
Quartz SiO2 Sand, crystal, agate
Feldspar KAlSi3O8 Orthoclase, moonstone
Mica KAl2(AlSi3O10)(OH)2 Muscovite, biotite
Clay Al2Si2O5(OH)4 Kaolinite, bentonite

3. Silicon is Vital for Many Lifeforms

Despite its geological ubiquity, silicon appears sparsely in biology. Still, some primitive plants like horsetails, diatoms and algae rely on silicon to build structural elements like stems, cell walls and scales. Without sufficient dissolved silicic acid, these organisms’ growth becomes impaired.

Silicon Element

II. Silicon Chemistry & Physics

4. Silicon Exhibits Metalloid Behavior

With properties intermediate between a metal and nonmetal, silicon is classed as a semimetal or metalloid. Its conductivity and lustre quality are metallic but limited compared to pure metals. This manifests silicon’s pivotal semiconductor properties central to modern technology.

5. Silicon Derives its Name from Latin for Flint

The name “silicon” has roots back to early chemistry, with silicon dioxide first isolated from flint formations. Flint, an ancient tool material generating sparks when flaked, has this ability due to particulate silica inclusions. Silex is Latin for flint, giving silicon its name.

6. Silicon Adopts Several Allotrope Forms

The Same element can manifest radically different physical forms, or allotropes. The two most economically important silicon allotropes are crystalline and amorphous. Crystalline silicon, the electronics grade form, contains a continuous ordered lattice structure while amorphous silicon atoms are randomly arranged.

A Silicon

7. Molten Silicon Flows at Almost 1500°C

While silicon feels solid at room temperature, like glass it acts as a high viscosity liquid around its 1414°C melting point. This exceptionally high melting point compared to other semiconductors enables silicon devices to operate at higher temperatures without issue.

8. Silicon Does Not Readily Oxidize or React

Exposed to air, room temperature silicon shows remarkable stability and corrosion resistance due to a protective passivation oxide layer. Apart from hot caustics like Aqua Regia, silicon withstands reaction and makes an ideal, reliable semiconductor.

III. Silicon Production

9. Economical Silicon Purification Proved Historically Challenging

Early silicon’s semiconductor promise suffered a major barrier – reliably producing hyperpure material at industrial volumes seemed impossible. Eventually the Siemens and Czochralski processes overcame these obstacles and enabled the silicon era.

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10. Raw Silicon Must Undergo Extensive Refining

Naturally occurring silicon compounds must get extensively refined before reaching electronics suitable purity. Quartz gets reduced into metallurgical grade silicon then converted to trichlorosilane gas. This gas gets purified further then decomposed into polysilicon.

Table 2 - Silicon Purification Steps

Step Process Purity
1 Quartz reduction 98%
2 Siemens process 99.999999%
3 Czochralski method 99.999999999%

11. The Czochralski Method Grows Single Crystal Boules

A Silicon Crystal

The predominant technique for forming single crystal silicon, the Czochralski method involves dipping a pure polysilicon seed crystal into molten silicon then slowly withdrawing to grow a ladle shaped ingot up to 300mm wide. Oxide crucibles containing the melt get heated up to $1500^oC$.

12. Silicon Ingots Get Sliced into Wafers

Once cooled and solidified, monocrystalline silicon ingots undergo rounding to cylinders then get precisely sectioned into discs up to 300mm across to yield silicon wafers. Wafer slicing presently utilizes steel blades but laser cutting holds future promise.

Table 3 – Common Silicon Wafer Sizes

Size (diameter) Application
100 mm Discrete devices, MEMS
150 mm Integrated circuits
200 mm Integrated circuits
300 mm Integrated circuits

IV. Silicon Applications & Uses

13. Over 96% of Electronics Depend on Silicon

Owing to silicon’s abundance, manufacturability and physics, electrgonics underpinning modern society depend overwhelmingly on silicon integrated circuits. According to statistics, as much as 96% of present day electronics exploit silicon chip technology in some form.

14. Silicon Dominates the $500 Billion Semiconductor Industry

Silicon dominates world semiconductor production, making up over 94% of the $500 billion global integrated circuit market based on revenue. The next leading semiconductors, gallium arsenide and germanium, account for under 5% market share combined.

Table 4 – Semiconductor Market Share 2021

Material Market Share
Silicon 94.1%
Gallium arsenide 3.5%
Germanium 1.2%
Other 1.2%

15. Silicon PV Cells Drive the Solar Industry

Bohemian born silicon solar cells instigated the photovoltaics industry nearly 70 years ago. Today over 90% of solar panels introduce crystalline silicon technology, while most of the rest use thin film amorphous silicon. Overall some $270 billion got invested into solar over the past decade.

16. Silicon Makes Up Around 30% of a Typical Computer Chip

Accounting for transistors, wiring and other components, even in a digital logic chip silicon still makes up over 30% of the entire mass. Packaging and metals like copper and gold make up further proportions in computing hardware enabling the information revolution.

17. Silicon Microchips Continue to Shrink Exponentially

Moore’s Law observes that silicon chip density doubles roughly every couple years. This still holds 50 years on, with leading edge chips now packing over 50 billion transistors into less than 100 square millimeters! Driving computational power from room-filling boxes to compact smartphones.

18. Black Silicon Shows Extreme Antireflection Properties

By texturizing wafer surfaces into microscopic spikes through plasma etching, nearly all reflective losses get eliminated. This ‘black silicon’ reflects under 2% of light versus over 30% with polished silicon, substantially improving solar cell efficiency.

19. Silicon Germanium Heterostructures Expand Chip Capabilities

Joining thin layers of silicon with germanium creates strain that enables tailored band structure engineering. These SiGe heterostructures open new possibilities for integrated optics, high frequency transistors and sensors on silicon wafers.

20. Silicon Photonics Promises Light Speed Optical Circuits

Leveraging silicon’s infrared transparency, silicon photonics seeks on-chip optical communications using ultrafast lasers, waveguides and modulators. Integrating electronics and photonics onto existing CMOS silicon could overcome looming interconnect bottlenecks.

Final Thoughts on 20 Interesting Facts on Silicon

This glimpse into silicon helps illustrate why electronics revolve around this single element. As wafer specialists our team lives and breathes the science underlying monocrystalline silicon production each day. Please visit WaferPro.com anytime for premium silicon wafers to power your next project!

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