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Definition: silicon

(Si) The base material used in chips. Pronounced "sil-i-kin," not "sil-i-cone," the latter used to make sealants (see silicone), silicon is the most abundant element in nature next to oxygen. It is found in a natural state in rocks and sand, and its atomic structure makes it an ideal semiconductor material. For chip making, silicon is mined from white quartz rocks and put through a chemical process at high temperatures to purify it. Pure silicon is not electrically conductive. In order to make it conductive, it is chemically combined with other materials such as boron and phosphorus (see doping). See silicon germanium and black silicon.

A Silicon Moon
This stylized image symbolizes that chips are made from the same material found in sand. The "moon" is a finished wafer containing memory chips. (Image courtesy of Texas Instruments, Inc.)

Drawing the Silicon Ingot
An ingot is being drawn from a furnace containing molten silicon. High-speed saws slice the ingots into wafers about the thickness of a dime, which are then ground and polished mirror smooth. (Image courtesy of Texas Instruments, Inc.)