Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Silicon Is Where The Flintstones Meet The Jetsons

Van der Krogt has the usual collection of fascinating facts, histories and stories about silicon. link

Silicon's chemical properties rhyme with carbon's. Silicon lies right under carbon as one of the Group 14 elements in The Table. I also like the juxtaposition of SiO2 and CO2 but the two molecules couldn't be more different. One is a gas and the other is as solid as rock. SiO2 is rock. How wonderful if we could polymerize CO2 or depolymerize sand, but we just can't.

I wrote about CO2 back here but none of that is too relevant to SiO2. Silicon is to rock what carbon is to life; it's in practically everything inorganic. Silicon appears in as many species of rocks and minerals as carbon appears in forms of life. And then there is the whole artificial intelligence lodged in silicon chips -- "life" created in our own image. That brings me to the Silicon Valley. I have some reflections on living and working there, but I'm not ready to go back there yet. In a sense, my "Conversations with Henry" series belongs to that time and place.

I think that a William Shockley biography could be seriously fascinating. Ditto Madisonian John Bardeen and Walter Brattain. I'm curious about silicon chips and want to know more about how they actually work. Silicon comprises the bulk of solar cells too.

A little know fact is that Shockley's first solid state transistor company (which later spawned Intel) was funded by Arnold Beckman (1900-2004). Beckman invented the pH meter and invested his profits wisely, mostly seeding American ingenuity. In many unappreciated ways, Beckman was yet another humble Midwesterner behind the scenes of American greatness.

There's artificial intelligence and then there's artificial breasts. I also thought about writing about silicone breast implants. That might have engendered a lot of hits. Or maybe not. Silly Putty boobs -- meh.


  1. "A Rule 5" post outlining the benefits of silicone breast implants would seem to be the path to blogging glory --

  2. Don't forget the Fulgurite!

    More Latin, fulgur, turning silica to glass in the blink of eye, or the poke of a fork.

    Wouldn't have known the name if this post hadn't prompted me to look up sand melted by lightning. I've always thought it would be amazing to find a piece. But a 100 years of family summering on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan with 1000's of storms haven't turned up any yet.

  3. @MamaM: Much thanks for the vitreous humour. I've noticed you have an eye for it. ;)

  4. God's truth, chickelit; my dad was based in Emory, GA during WW2, and worked at the Emory University Hospital.

    His job? Making and fitting glass eyes for the returning wounded who'd experienced eye loss. He was a recently graduated dentist when he enlisted with the USArmy, and his skills were put to good use. His sample eyeballs, and the batch of before and after photos of the men who benefited from his work are evidence of excellence attending to loss.

    Vitreous humour indeed! He too was well versed in it.

  5. @MamaM: I nearly began an apprenticeship to learn dental technology, the art of carving and casting crowns and bridges using the "lost wax process." I had learned that technique in a high school art class and had carved many objects out of wax, put them on a sprues and then making the ceramic mold before casting into metal-mostly pewter but some silver. Here is a recent wax carving, a small figure I did for my daughter's school diarama. link

    I never did start the apprenticeship and opted for college instead.

  6. I really should start a mini series for silicon the way did for carbon (bloghetti carbonara) to cover other aspects of this most important element.

  7. Dental composite.

    "Composite resins are most commonly composed of Bis-GMA monomers or some Bis-GMA analog, a filler material such as silica and in most current applications, a photoinitiator."

    The carving connection interested me, as my dad turned to wood carving in his later years as a means of relaxation and creative expression. I inherited some of his knives and chisels and have completed a basic nativity of draped figures carved from basswood, but none with arms or legs situated away from the body as with yours. Each of the pieces surprised me by having a life of their own beyond my original imagination.

    From the look of your wax figure, it appears as if the patience and "eye" needed for the career path not chosen is still present. With the advent of composites and dental implants the materials and type of work done by labs/techs has changed significantly in the last twenty years. (Looking up dental composite revealed the silica connect)

    If you ever find yourself considering more expression with metals, wood or wax, there is a respected Folk School in NC that offers week long learning vacations with classes from beginner to advanced taught by artisans and master craftsman. I've no personal connection to the school, but sigh when the catalog arrives, hoping to someday attend.

    John C Campbell Folk School

  8. @MamaM: Regarding your link: You reminded me that I signed up for blacksmithing classes at a local outdoor museum and never heard from them. I need to follow-up.