Silicon is the second most abundant mineral in the earth’s crust after oxygen. As a semiconductor, it can conduct electricity and does not shy away from insulation when the right conditions are met.
The most influential factor in the conductivity of silicon is temperature. At room temperature, naturally occurring silicon conducts electricity. However, silicon acts as an insulator at or near zero.
In this guide, I will support this assertion with facts on how silicon conducts electricity at room temperature, not at absolute zero.
You will also learn about the properties of the metal, its electrical conductivity and resistivity, and its role in the manufacturing of various devices or applications.
Properties of Silicon
- Silicon has a diamond crystal cubic structure with a lattice arrangement of 0.543 nanometers (nm).
- In a solid state, the density of silicon is 2.32 g/cm3.
- The metal is hard, brittle, and crystalline with a grey and bluish tint.
- Every atom of silicon is covalently bonded to 4 atoms of oxygen while the atoms of oxygen are covalently bonded to two atoms of silicon.
- At room temperature, the metal is considered relatively inactive.
When is Silicon an Insulator?
Naturally occurring silicon or one without impurities will not conduct electricity. This is because its valence electrons are covalently linked and are static.
This type of silicon (pure silicon) helps in reducing power consumption and increases speed in some applications.
Does Silicon Conduct Electricity?
Since silicon can act as a conductor and an insulator, let’s start with how it conducts electricity. For this n-type semiconductor to readily conduct, it needs a small range of n-type impurities such as phosphorus or arsenic.
These impurities disrupt silicon atoms’ stability and result in mobile electrons capable of moving electrons through the semiconductor.
Electrical Conductivity and Resistivity of Silicon
The electrical conductivity of any material is the degree to which it allows electricity to flow through it. Silicon has an electrical conductivity ranging from 1.67 × 10-2 to 10 Ω-1-cm-1.
This value moves towards a positive exponential depending on the degree or extent of impurity present in it. Electrical resistivity is the opposite of conductivity. In other words, it measures how far such material is willing to oppose the flow of electricity through it.
Silicon has an electrical resistivity ranging from 0.10 – 60 Ω-cm. In the presence of n-impurities, these values revert toward decimals.
Does Silicon Dioxide Conduct Electricity?
Silicon dioxide or silica is a natural mixture of silicon and oxygen. It does not conduct electricity because it lacks ions and electrons. They are mostly involved in glass and cement manufacturing.
Does Silicon Conduct Heat?
Silicon is a poor conductor of heat. Although impurities break the semiconductor lattice, the movement and vibrations within the element are not enough to conduct heat efficiently.
For context, the semiconductor has a thermal conductivity of 2.3 W/cm – k. This means it has a low thermal conductivity or high thermal resistance.
Uses of Silicon
- Silicon is a coating for various electrical devices like telephones, keyboards, computers, and copier rollers.
- It also contributes to manufacturing solar cells, transistors, and integrated chips.
- Silicon and its derivatives help construct fire bricks and window panes for buildings.
- Whiteware ceramics are primarily made of silica and fired clay.
- Optical fibers are usually a variety of silica-based glass fibers.
- Silicon also features in breast implants.
Can silicon be drawn into wires?
While silicon is a lustrous element, it cannot be drawn into wires because it is not ductile.
This is usually the case for long and thin wires.
Does silicon attract electricity naturally?
Silicon, in its naturally occurring state, will not attract electricity. This is because all its atoms bind to the four oxygen atoms, hence, there is no room for free electrons to conduct electricity.
Is silicon magnetic or non-magnetic?
Silicon is naturally non-magnetic. In the presence of doping magnetic metals, they will still not exhibit magnesium.
In a Nutshell
Silicon is a semiconductor and can conduct or insulate electricity depending on your aim. In its naturally occurring state, the semiconductor is inert and neutral and will not conduct electricity.
This is the type used in coating, lubricating, and breast implants.
However, when silicon contains impurities, it becomes conductive even at room temperature. In other words, its conductivity will increase with an increase in temperature (unlike metals).
This type gets drawn into wires and also features in solar applications.
I hope you found this guide helpful. Please note that semiconductors are not only ideal for coating and conduction but also for metals. To better understand this, please see if nickel conducts electricity.
Thanks for reading.