Matter & Energy

Matter is composed of atoms or groups of atoms called molecules. The arrangement of particles in a material depends on the physical state of the substance. In a solid, particles form a compact structure that resists flow. Particles in a liquid have more energy than those in a solid. They can flow past one another, but they remain close. Particles in a gas have the most energy. They move rapidly and are separated from one another by relatively large distances.


Silicon, symbol Si, semimetallic element that is the second most common element on earth, after oxygen. The atomic number of silicon is 14. Silicon is in group 14 (or IVa) of the periodic table. It was first isolated from its compounds in 1823 by the Swedish chemist Baron Jöns Jakob Berzelius.


Silicon is prepared as a brown amorphous powder or as gray-black crystals. It is obtained by heating silica, or silicon dioxide (SiO2), with a reducing agent, such as carbon or magnesium, in an electric furnace. Crystalline silicon has a hardness of 7, compared to 5 to 7 for glass. Silicon melts at about 1410° C (about 2570° F), boils at about 2355° C (about 4271° F), and has a specific gravity of 2.33. The atomic weight of silicon is 28.086.

Silicon is not attacked by nitric, hydrochloric, or sulfuric acids, but it dissolves in hydrofluoric acid, forming the gas, silicon tetrafluoride. It dissolves in sodium hydroxide, forming sodium silicate and hydrogen gas. At ordinary temperatures silicon is impervious to air, but at high temperatures it reacts with oxygen, forming a layer of silica that does not react further. At high temperatures it also reacts with nitrogen and chlorine to form silicon nitride and silicon chloride, respectively.

Silicon constitutes about 28 percent of the earth's crust. It does not occur in the free, elemental state, but is found in the form of silicon dioxide and in the form of complex silicates. Silicon-containing minerals constitute nearly 40 percent of all common minerals, including more than 90 percent of igneous-rock-forming minerals. The mineral quartz, varieties of quartz (such as carnelian, chrysoprase, onyx, flint, and jasper), and the minerals cristobalite and tridymite are the naturally occurring crystal forms of silica. Silicon dioxide is the principal constituent of sand. The silicates (such as the complex aluminum, calcium, and magnesium silicates) are the chief constituents of clays, soils, and rocks in the form of feldspars, amphiboles, pyroxenes, micas, and zeolites, and of semiprecious stones, such as olivine, garnet, zircon, topaz, and tourmaline.