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Q: Commercial usage of Silicon ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Commercial usage of Silicon
Category: Science > Technology
Asked by: daembl-ga
List Price: $50.00
Posted: 19 Dec 2003 02:07 PST
Expires: 18 Jan 2004 02:07 PST
Question ID: 288648
I am looking for the history of the commercial use of Silicon. In
addition, I am interested in knowing why it is
used e.i. why is it superior to other materials? How it is used
precisely? If not indirectly answered by the other questions, then
also how the usage has contributed to the technological leap. Finally,
it would be very interesting to get some fact about how widespread the
usage is today i.e. how many silicon chips are there in a typical car,
toaster etc

Clarification of Question by daembl-ga on 19 Dec 2003 02:58 PST
As point of clarification, I should mention that the desired focus is
on the usage of silicon in semiconductors.. as I imagine it could be
used for many other purposes as well
Subject: Re: Commercial usage of Silicon
Answered By: guillermo-ga on 21 Dec 2003 04:24 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Dear daembl-ga,

Searching for your question has been a most interesting task, thanks
for that chance.

Using the search strategy ?history - commercial use of silicon?, I?ve
found a couple of sites that I believe will fulfill your expectations.

First, there is a report by Stephens, Inc. ( )
?a full service, privately owned Investment Bank with headquarters in
Little Rock, Arkansas, and offices in London, England, and strategic
money markets in the United States?. This report on what they call
?power electronics?, defined as ?the use of electronic devices and
associated components to control, convert and condition electric
power?, dated  , shows a  thorough analysis of the industry that
covers from the economic implications of the industry to the
scientific explanation on how silicon works as a semiconductor,
including market trends and examples of its usage. The report URL is . In case
you couldn?t access the PDF version, you can try the HTML one (
) provided by the Google search results page for [history ?commercial
use of silicon?] ( ://

Due to copyright restriction, an extended transcription of the report
is not to be posted here. Nevertheless, within the frame of ?fair use?
I will quote a few paragraphs that will illustrate the aspects that
you?re most interested in.

Starting on page 12, under the title ?SEMICONDUCTOR BASICS / Silicon
(Si) - The Primary Material?, you can read:
?In the strict scientific sense, semiconductors are a class of
materials whose electrical properties lie between conductors (such as
copper and aluminum) and insulators (such as rubber and glass). In
common usage, however, the term ?semiconductor? is used to refer to
electronic devices made from a semiconductor material. Silicon is by
far the most widely used semiconductor material. More recently,
several other compound semiconductor materials are being used in niche
power semiconductor applications. These materials include gallium
arsenide, indium phosphide, silicon germanium and silicon carbide.
However, silicon continues to dominate the present commercial market.
Although a number of elements and compound elements possess
semiconducting properties, silicon is an ideal material for commercial
semiconductors for several reasons. First, its electrical conductivity
properties are excellent.
?A second reason for using silicon is that it is inexpensive and 
easily obtained from melting sand. Although silicon is the second most abundant 
element in the earth's crust and a component in numerous compounds, it never 
occurs in its pure state. Single-crystal silicon used in device production is a 
man-made material. The process of producing device-quality silicon first 
involves separating it from compounds and then purifying the separated material.
?The third reason for the commercial use of silicon in semiconductors
is the exceptional purity of the processed material. Modern
semiconductors are some of the purest solid materials in existence. In
silicon, for example, the unintentional content of dopant atoms
(impurities) is typically less than one atom per 10 (exp) 9 silicon
atoms. To better understand this extraordinary level of purity,
imagine a forest of maple trees planted from coast to coast, border to
border, at 50-foot centers across the United States (including Alaska
and Hawaii). An impurity level of one part per 10 (exp) 9 would
correspond to finding about 25 crabapple trees in the maple tree
forest covering the entire United States!?

About ?How Semiconductors Work?, on page 14:

?The basic function of a power semiconductor is to impede, induce, or
regulate the flow of electricity through the semiconductor material.
Carriers are the entities that transport an electrical charge from
place to place inside a conductive material. In metallic wires,
electrons act as the carrier. Electrons are also involved in carrying
the charge within semiconductors. However, a second equally important
type of carrier exists--the hole. Pure silicon has 1023atoms per cubic
centimeter. Each atom has four electrons that bond with its four
nearest neighbors. In nature, the crystalline molecular structure of
silicon is obviously three-dimensional.
?Each atom has four electrons attached to its four closest neighboring
atoms which in turn have four electrons attached to their four closest
neighboring atoms. However, the electron bond between silicon atoms is
relatively weak and easily manipulated. When the silicon-silicon bond
is broken and the associated electron is free to wander about the
lattice, the released electron is a carrier. In addition to releasing
an electron, the breaking of a silicon-silicon bond creates a missing
Lines represent a shared electron. Circles represent the core of the
silicon atom. Electrons and holes carry the electrical charge within
semiconductors. The electron bond between silicon atoms is easily
manipulated bond or ?hole.? The hole is positively charged and, thus,
attracts negatively charged electrons. By creating an environment
within the semiconductor material in which electrons are released and
holes are created, one can manipulate the flow of electrical current
through the material. The manipulation of carrier numbers is done by
doping. In semiconductor terminology, doping is the addition of
controlled amounts of specific impure atoms with the express purpose
of increasing either the electron or the hole concentration. The
addition of dopants in controlled amounts to semiconductor material
occurs routinely in the fabrication of almost all semiconductor
devices. For example, when an atom of phosphorus is substituted for an
atom of silicon in the lattice, four of the electrons from the
phosphorus atom fit snugly into the bonding structure. But phosphorus
has five electrons, so the fifth electron is readily freed to wander
about the lattice and, thus, becomes a carrier.?

Page 20 has a brief overview of semiconductors (thus, silicon) industry:
?The power semiconductor industry has grown at an accelerating rate
since its inception in the 1950s. The first power semiconductor
devices were simple diodes and thyristors. During the 1950s and 1960s,
research teams at major electronics companies like Motorola and Bell
Laboratories, now part of Lucent, developed additional power discrete
products as they investigated different applications for the new
semiconductor devices. By the end of the 1960s, discrete power
semiconductors were commonplace in consumer electronics and lighting
applications. The first ICs (integrated circuits) appeared in the late
1960s as engineers began to integrate bipolar power transistors and
small signal devices onto a single chip. Advances in IC design
continued throughout the 1970s. In the early 1980s, IGBTs (insulated
gate bipolar transistors) and MOSFETs (metal-oxide semiconductor field
effect transistors) were developed for higher power applications.
Today, firms continue to experiment with new design and fabrication
techniques to increase the power-handling capabilities of power
semiconductors and to raise the level of integration possible in power

On page 24 you can read: ?The automotive industry is one of the
fastest growing market segments for power semiconductors. Revenues
from the North American automotive industry totaled $1.1 billion in
1999. This figure is expected to grow to approximately $2.0 billion in

(?)?Driving the growth is the simple fact that more and more power
semiconductor devices are being integrated into automotive electrical

The illustration on page 25 details the devices using semiconductors
in an automobile, which reach the number of 22.

Besides, there is the lecture on ?The Art and Science of Building the
First Commercial Silicon Grown Junction Transistors? at the Transistor
Museum Lecture Hall, by William Brower about the very beginning of
silicon use in transistors in 1955, including a detailed technical
explanation of its mechanism based on scientific principle. (

I?m very confident that these two sources ?particularly the first one-
will meet your expectations. Nevertheless, please don?t hesitate to
ask for any clarification you may need. Thank you for your question.



Clarification of Answer by guillermo-ga on 26 Jan 2004 18:52 PST
I'm glad that you find my answer useful. Thank YOU for the rating.

Best regards,

daembl-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars
Good work, thank you very much

There are no comments at this time.

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