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Granite countertops. WD-40. Oven mitts. Roof coatings. Microchips. Non stick cookware. They either use silicon or silicone, but which one uses which?

I was proofreading something when I saw “Silicone Valley”. I noticed the mistake immediately. It should have been “Silicon Valley.” No biggie. It’s one of the most common spelling errors in the English language. I’ve done it myself.

But I was embarrassed to admit, being a “science guy”, I didn’t really know the difference between the two substances. I asked the Great Google Oracle and was surprised at the difference an “e” makes. In fact, I was so excited by what I learned, (including my new favorite word “metalloid”) that I had to share it with you.

Silicon’s the 2nd most abundant element in the Earth’s crust following Oxygen. 90% of the Earth’s crust is composed of silicate minerals like granite. It’s a naturally occurring metalloid, meaning it has the properties of both metals and nonmetals.

As silica, or silicon dioxide(SiO2), it forms quartz crystals. It’s also the key ingredient in bricks, concrete and glass. Like metal, it is an ideal semiconductor of electricity, used in extensively in electronic circuit boards and microchips, which is where Silicon Valley got its name.

Silicone, on the other hand, doesn’t exist in nature. It’s a man made polymer, made of chains of silicon and oxygen atoms. It has very different properties from silicon and is widely used in numerous industries because of its special properties.

It is slippery, waterproof, and doesn’t support microbiological growth. Also, it’s resistant to oxygen, ozone, and UV light. These properties make it ideal for use in construction where its used an industrial strength lubricant. The roofing industry uses it to make silicone roof coatings. Known as the “Cadillac of roof coatings”, silicone roof coatings are water repellant and slippery when wet. Highly durable, they are resistant to damaging sunlight and can extend roof life by 20 years. The downside is they are so slippery, they must be removed in order to re-coat in the future.

As a rubberlike plastic, its low toxicity and high biocompatibility make it perfect for use in contact lenses and bandages. It is also used in shampoos, shaving creams, breast implants, and personal lubricants.

Highly heat resistant, it is used widely in kitchenware such as mitts, tongs, and pan handles. It’s exceptional thermal stability and non-stick properties make it useful as a non-stick cookware coating.

An excellent insulator, with low electrical conductivity, it is a major component in electronics casings where it is used to shield devices from electrical shocks.

Time for a recap.

Silicon is naturally occurring, and hard. It is the primary element in brick, glass, and concrete. We wouldn’t have computers if not for this metalloid.

Silicone is man made. It repels water, and waterproofs commercial flat roofs. Its slipperiness makes it an excellent industrial lubricant. Non toxic and heat resistant it is also used widely in the kitchen on tools used for food preparation.

Speaking of which, if you ever need an ally to waterproof your building or roof, please remember Allied Construction Services and give us a call at (925)724-2324.

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