Silicon: Chemical Element Properties

Silicon is a chemical element with the symbol Si and atomic number 14. It is a hard and brittle crystalline solid with a blue-grey metallic lustre and it is a tetravalent metalloid and semiconductor. It is relatively unreactive. Because of its high chemical affinity for oxygen. Its melting and boiling points of 1414 °C and 3265 °C respectively are the second-highest among all the metalloids and nonmetals, being only surpassed by boron. It is the 8th most common element in the universe by mass, but very rarely occurs as the pure element in the Earth’s crust. It is most widely distributed in dusts, sands, planetoids, and planets as various forms of silicon dioxide (silica) or silicates. More than 90% of the Earth’s crust is composed of silicate minerals, making silicon the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust (about 28% by mass) after oxygen.


The name silicon derives from the Latin silex or silicis, it means “flint” or “hard stone”. Amorphous elemental silicon was first isolated and described as an element in 1824 by Jöns Jacob Berzelius, a Swedish chemist. Impure silicon had already been obtained in 1811. Crystalline elemental silicon was not prepared until 1854, when it was obtained as a product of electrolysis. In the form of rock crystal, however, It was familiar to the predynastic Egyptians, who used it for beads and small vases; to the early Chinese; and probably to many others of the ancients. The manufacture of glass containing silica was carried out both by the Egyptians—at least as early as 1500 BCE—and by the Phoenicians. Certainly, many of the naturally occurring compounds called silicates were used in various kinds of mortar for construction of dwellings by the earliest people.

Physical and Atomic Characteristics of Silicon

  • At standard temperature and pressure, It is a shiny semiconductor with a bluish-grey metallic lustre; as typical for semiconductors, its resistivity drops as temperature rises. This arises because silicon has a small energy gap between its highest occupied energy levels (the valence band) and the lowest unoccupied ones (the conduction band).
  • The Fermi level is about halfway between the valence and conduction bands and is the energy at which a state is as likely to be occupied by an electron as not. Hence pure silicon is an insulator at room temperature. However, doping silicon with a pnictogen such as phosphorus, arsenic, or antimony introduces one extra electron per dopant and these may then be excited into the conduction band either thermally or photolytically, creating an n-type semiconductor.
  • Similarly, doping silicon with a group 13 element such as boron, aluminium, or gallium results in the introduction of acceptor levels that trap electrons that may be excited from the filled valence band, creating a p-type semiconductor.
  • Joining n-type silicon to p-type silicon creates a p-n junction with a common Fermi level; electrons flow from n to p, while holes flow from p to n, creating a voltage drop. This p-n junction thus acts as a diode that can rectify alternating current that allows current to pass more easily one way than the other. A transistor is an n-p-n junction, with a thin layer of weakly p-type silicon between two n-type regions. Biasing the emitter through a small forward voltage and the collector through a large reverse voltage allows the transistor to act as a triode amplifier.