14Si Silicon

Year Discovered


Discovered By

Jöns Jakob Berzelius of Sweden

Biological Rating

Not necessary for life.


Named from the Latin word meaning “flint,” silicon is a shiny, blue-gray metallic substance. It looks like a metal, but its other characteristics are more non-metallic than metallic. It is the second-most common element in the Earth’s crust, mostly in the form of silica (SiO2). Pure silicon is never found in nature. Silicon, like its neighbor carbon, is a very useful element. It is used in metal alloys, especially with aluminum, steel, copper and nickel. It also is used in silicone polymers and lubricants. Silicate compounds are used in glass making. Pure silicon is an excellent semi-conductor, and it extensively used in integrated circuits and other electrical components. Silicon is also used as an insulator, in enamels, pottery, lasers and solar cells, among many other uses. Prolonged breathing of fine silica or silicate dust is very dangerous and can cause serious lung disease.

Biological Benefits

Silicon is essential to some life forms. Diatoms, some sponges and some plants use silica (SiO2) as a structural material. It is undetermined if it is essential to humans, but it may be necessary in skeletal development and other structural material, such as skin and fingernails.

Role in Life Processes

No known benefits in life processes, but it has some medical benefits.


There are hundreds of silicon-bearing minerals, including quartz, probably the second most common mineral on Earth. Silicon is chiefly obtained from quartz, which is not much more difficult to mine than scooping up sand. Silicon is also obtained from the minerals mica and talc.