Silicon or Silicone: What’s the Difference?

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It may come as a surprise, but silicon and silicone are two very different things.

In short, silicon is a naturally occurring chemical element, whereas silicone is a synthetic substance.




Elemental silicon is a major player in modern electronics because it’s an ideal semiconductor of electricity. When heated into a molten state, silicon can be formed into semi-conductive wafers, to serve as the base for integrated circuits (microchips).

In fact, Silicon Valley, the southern region of the San Francisco Bay Area, earned its name due to the high concentration of computer and electronics companies in the area producing silicon-based semiconductors and chips.

Silicone, by contrast, is a synthetic polymer made up of silicon, oxygen and other elements, most typically carbon and hydrogen. Silicone is generally a liquid or a flexible, rubberlike plastic, and has a number of useful properties, such as low toxicity and high heat resistance. It also provides good electrical insulation.

Due to its high heat resistance, silicone makes up a lot of kitchenware, such as oven mitts, tongs and pan handles; silicone’s non-stick properties also make it useful for cookware coatings. Additionally, the material’s heat resistance and slipperiness make it an ideal lubricant for automotive parts (as a lubricating spray or grease).

In other industries, silicone is commonly used as a sealant for watertight containers (e.g., aquariums) and plumbing pipes.


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