Silicon is a chemical element with symbol Si and atomic number 14. It is a tetravalent metalloid, more reactive than germanium, the metalloid directly below it in the table. Controversy about silicon's character dates to its discovery. It was first prepared and characterized in pure form in 1823. In 1808, it was given the name silicium (from Latin: silex, hard stone or flint), with an -ium word-ending to suggest a metal, a name which the element retains in several languages. The present English name was first suggested in 1817 to conform with the physically similar elements, carbon and boron.
Silicon is the eighth most common element in the universe by mass, but very rarely occurs as the pure free 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. Over 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.
Most silicon is used commercially without being separated, and often with little processing of the natural minerals. Such use includes industrial construction with clays, silica sand, and stone. Silicate is used in Portland cement for mortar and stucco, and mixed with silica sand and gravel to make concrete for walkways, foundations, and roads. Silicates are used in whiteware ceramics such as porcelain, and in traditional quartz-based soda-lime glass and many other specialty glasses. Silicon compounds such as silicon carbide as used as abrasives and components of high-strength ceramics.
Silicon is the basis of the widely used synthetic polymers called silicones.
Elemental silicon also has a large impact on the modern world economy. Most free silicon is used in the steel refining, aluminium-casting, and fine chemical industries (often to make fumed silica). Even more visibly, the relatively small portion of very highly purified silicon used in semiconductor electronics (< 10%) is essential to integrated circuits — most computers, cell phones, and modern technology depends on it.
Silicon is an essential element in biology, although only tiny traces are required by animals. However, various sea sponges and microorganisms, such as diatoms and radiolaria, secrete skeletal structures made of silica. Silica is deposited in many plant tissues, such as in the bark and wood of Chrysobalanaceae and the silica cells and silicified trichomes of Cannabis sativa, horsetails and many grasses.