Polymers are an enormous and diverse family of plastics that can be found in countless different household items in one form or another. One of the largest families within synthetic polymers are silicone polymers, which contain silicon; which is often cited as the second most abundant element on the planet, second only to oxygen. Silicones are composed of both silicone and oxygen. They can take many different forms, from liquids to solids. Extremely pure forms of silicon are also used in computers and other modern electronics. A mecca of computer science and engineering, the Silicon Valley of California,is named for the instrumental element. Polymers are long chains of repeating units. Silicone polymers have unique properties amongst polymers due to the fact that they organic compounds attached to inorganic atoms. They’re water repellant, they don’t decompose when exposed to heat, and they don’t become viscous. These qualities make silicones very useful across a wide variety of industries and applications.
A Brief History of Silicones
Predecessors of silicones were used in ancient history as early as the Stone Age, when silica-based stones like quartz were used to craft tools. Ancient Roman civilizations discovered that they could convert sand into glass, marking another important step in the early history of silicon development. The history of true silicones can be traced back to 1800, when J. J. von Berzelius of Sweden introduced the element silicon. Over a century later in 1930, American chemist J.F. Hyde became the first to commercially produce silicon, which was used as a resin in insulations for electronics. Then, in 1940, F.S. Kipping carried out the experiments with silicone polymers and organic silicon compounds. Kipping was the first person to use the term “silicone”, and much of his research and work forms the foundation of silicone development today. 1940 was also an important year in the history of silicones because two individuals- Richard Gustav Müller and Eugene George Rochow- both developed methods for the large-scale synthesization of silicone polymers. The Dow-Corning Corporation was the first company to manufacture silicones, accomplishing the feat in 1943.
By 1950, scientists invented a new type of putty that bounced, which became the world-famous toy known as “Silly Putty”. Spencer Silver invented pressure sensitive using silicone, which can be coated on a surface to enable it to stick to other materials. Perhaps the most historically significant of pressure sensitive adhesives are Post-It notes, developed by Arthur Fry of 3M, and continue to be a stationary staple in the present. Neil Armstrong’s Moon landing in 1969 is one of the most grand achievements in all of human history. The soles of the boots worn by Armstrong and other astronauts of NASA’s Apollo lunar missions were made out of a silicone rubber material. Silicone was also used by NASA for several components of their spacecraft, many of which were instrumental in the astronauts’ safety and support systems. Medical-grade silicones were originally created in the 1940’s, and they continue to be used today. Silicones are used to make medical equipment like catheters, shunts, stinta, drains, and more. Some people are allergic to latex, which is another material often used in the medical industry. An advantage of silicones is that they are less likely to cause a patient to experience an allergic reaction. Silicones are an increasingly prominent material used in contact lenses.
Silicone-Based Adhesives and Sealants
Silicone-based adhesives and sealants are one of the most common applications of silicones in general. These products are used by a multitude of different industries from aerospace to healthcare. Their resistance to stress and heat makes them extremely useful as adhesives in aircraft and spacecraft. Doors, windows, wings, switches, engine gaskets, electrical equipment, overhead bins, and others often contain silicone products. The exceptional durability also makes them ideal in construction; where they’re used to concrete, granite, steel, plastics and many more building materials. Massive glass facades, like those seen in some modern skyscrapers, are bonded together with silicones. Silicones are particularly capable of withstanding stress from high winds and earthquakes. A number of household items like baking pans, molds, mats, and utensils are made of silicone rubbers due to their strength and flexibility. Some fabric softeners contain silicone as a softening agent, and other clothes-related products use silicone to control foam in laundry machines or smooth out wrinkles in fabric. Lotions and other cosmetics contain silicone to make the substance easier to apply smoothly. Silicones are featured in many different types of paints and coatings. This is due to their resistance to the elements, durability, and excellent adhesive properties. Automobile manufacturers use silicone in coatings to extend the lifespan of vehicles. The evolution of computer technology was made possible in part by silicones, as they fulfilled a vital role in protecting the microchip from extreme heat and contamination. Silicone possesses distinctive properties that provide it with the ability to resist heat. Microprocessors, semiconductors, circuits, and other electrical components use silicones. High voltage and high frequency electronics rely on silicone polymers to protect and stabilize equipment. Very pure forms of silicone polymers are able to protect even the most sensitive circuits.
Silicone polymers are certainly used in an incredibly diverse range of different applications and can fulfill a wide variety of different roles. Many different products used by millions of people on an everyday basis would not be possible without silicones. They should only grow in importance in the future. Consumers will benefit from the unique properties and characteristics of silicone polymers, especially when considering the fact that they can help cut costs and save money. Their versatility and durability enable them to be used to extend the lifespan of electronics, automobiles, and more. It is just another way in which polymers, and plastics in general, provide solutions to innumerable different problems encountered each day by people around the world.