In the universe, silicon is the seventh most abundant element, coming after hydrogen, helium, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and neon. These abundances are not replicated well on Earth due to substantial separation of the elements taking place during the formation of the Solar System. Silicon makes up 27.2% of the Earth’s crust by weight, second only to oxygen at 45.5%, with which it is always associated in nature. Further fractionation took place in the formation of the Earth by planetary differentiation: Earth’s core, which makes up 31.5% of the mass of the Earth, has approximate composition Fe25Ni2Co0.1S3; the mantle makes up 68.1% of the Earth’s mass and is composed mostly of denser oxides and silicates, an example being olivine, (Mg,Fe)2SiO4; while the lighter siliceous minerals rise to the surface and form the crust, making up 0.4% of the Earth’s mass.
The crystallisation of igneous rocks from magma depends on a number of factors; among them are the chemical composition of the magma, the cooling rate, and some properties of the individual minerals to be formed, such as lattice energy, melting point, and complexity of their crystal structure. As magma is cooled, olivine appears first, followed by pyroxene, amphibole, biotite mica, orthoclase feldspar, muscovite mica, quartz, zeolites, and finally hydrothermal minerals. This sequence shows a trend towards increasingly complex silicate units with cooling, and the introduction of hydroxide and fluoride anions in addition to oxides. Many metals can substitute for silicon. After these igneous rocks undergo weathering, transport, and deposition, sedimentary rocks like clay, shale, and sandstone are formed. Metamorphism also can occur at high temperatures and pressures, creating an even vaster variety of minerals.
Silicon is a chemical element with symbol Si and atomic number 14. A hard and brittle crystalline solid with a blue-grey metallic lustre, it is a tetravalent metalloid and semiconductor. It is a member of group 14 in the periodic table, along with carbon above it and germanium, tin, and lead below. It is rather unreactive, though less so than germanium, and has a very large chemical affinity for oxygen; as such, it was first prepared and characterized in pure form only in 1823 by Jöns Jakob Berzelius.
Silicon is the eighth most common element in the universe by mass, but very rarely occurs as the pure element in the Earth’s crust. It is most widely distributed in dusts, sands, planetoids, and planets as various forms of silicon dioxide (silica) or silicates. Over 90% of the Earth’s crust is composed of silicate minerals, making silicon the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust (about 28% by mass) after oxygen.
Most silicon is used commercially without being separated, and often with little processing of the natural minerals. Such use includes industrial construction with clays, silica sand, and stone. Silicates are used in Portland cement for mortar and stucco, and mixed with silica sand and gravel to make concrete for walkways, foundations, and roads. They are also used in whiteware ceramics such as porcelain, and in traditional quartz-based soda-lime glass and many other specialty glasses. Silicon compounds such as silicon carbide are used as abrasives and components of high-strength ceramics.
Elemental silicon also has a large impact on the modern world economy. Most free silicon is used in the steel refining, aluminium-casting, and fine chemical industries (often to make fumed silica). Even more visibly, the relatively small portion of very highly purified silicon used in semiconductor electronics (< 10%) is essential to integrated circuits — most computers, cell phones, and modern technology depend on it. Silicon is the basis of the widely used synthetic polymers called silicones.
Silicon is an essential element in biology, although only tiny traces are required by animals. However, various sea sponges and microorganisms, such as diatoms and radiolaria, secrete skeletal structures made of silica. Silica is deposited in many plant tissues, such as in the bark and wood of Chrysobalanaceae and the silica cells and silicified trichomes of Cannabis sativa, horsetails and many grasses.