GC: n

CT: Silicon has been used as an electrical component for many years. It was while someone was trying to improve this element’s ability to conduct electricity (by adding impurities into its structure and then exposing it to the sun) that the silicon solar cell was born. This happened in 1953. Since then, time, money and effort has made silicon the most well-known and established solar technology in the world. Silicon solar panels are sometimes referred to “first generation” panels.

S: (last access: 12 July 2016)

N: 1. nonmetallic element, 1817, coined by British chemist Thomas Thomson from silica (silicon dioxide), from which it was isolated. The name is patterned on carbon, etc. Silicon chip first attested 1965; Silicon Valley for the Santa Clara Valley south of San Francisco, U.S., first attested 1974, from the concentration of manufacturers of silicon chips used in computers, watches, etc.
2. Silicon is a semiconductor material. When it is doped with the impurities gallium and arsenic its ability to capture the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity is improved considerably. An atom of gallium has one less electron than an atom of silicon and an arsenic atom has one electron more. When arsenic atoms are put in between lots of silicon atoms, there are extra electrons in the structure so it creates an overall electron-rich layer. When gallium atoms are used instead, there is a lack of electrons so an electron-poor layer is produced.
3. In a solar cell, the layers are placed next to each other and an electric field is created. When the sunlight hits the solar cell, the energy excites electrons that leave behind holes. These migrate to the electrodes in the cell because of the presence of the electric field. In this way electricity is produced.
4. Silicon vs. silicone
Silicon is a nonmetallic element (number 14 on the periodic table) found in the earth’s crust. The element is a major component in semiconductors, and its high conductivity makes it useful in solar power cells.
Silicone is a class of silicon-based chemical compounds used in paints, adhesives, lubricants, and breast implants, among other applications.
So, while silicon is the correct word in relation to computer electronics and solar energy (and hence is the spelling used in Silicon Valley), silicone is usually correct in relation to other types of manufactured items.
5. People get confused about the differences between silicon, silicate, silica and even silicone.

  • Silicon: It is a chemical element, one of the 97 natural building blocks from which our minerals are formed.
  • Silica and silicate: Silica is a bit trickier concept. It refers the combination of silicon plus oxygen. The mineral quartz is silica. But so are the minerals tridymite, coesite, cristobalite and stishovite which are mineral forms of silica that are stable at high temperatures and pressures. All these minerals are also silicates. In other words, quartz is a silicate made of pure silica. But feldspars contain sodium, aluminum, potassium and calcium in addition to silicon and oxygen. Thus feldspars are silicates but they aren’t pure silica. Silicon links up with oxygen (which makes up 55% of the earth’s crust) to form the most common suite of minerals, called the silicates. Quartz, feldspars, olivine, micas, thomsonite, jadeite, and prehnite are all silicates. There is so much oxygen around that pure native silicon is almost never found naturally.
  • Silicone: Its a synthetic polymer of silicon with carbon and oxygen that could be in solid, liquid or gel form. It has all kinds of medical uses, such as in antacids, artificial joints, pacemakers and implants of various notoriety, but is not, as far as anyone knows, found in rocks.

6. Cultural Interrelation: We can mention Silicon Valley, a TV series (2014-) created by John Altschuler, Mike Judge and Dave Krinsky.

S: 1. OED – (last access: 12 July 2016). 2 & 3. (last access: 12 July 2016). 4. (last access: 12 July 2016). 5. (last access: 12 July 2016). 6. (last access: 12 July 2016).


CR: amorphous silicon, polycrystalline silicon, silica, silicone.