Uses of Silicon in Everyday Life

The 14th element in the periodic table, silicon is a grey, shiny metalloid with multiple uses. Besides oxygen, silicon is the second most readily available element on Earth and the 8th most common element found in the universe. Naturally, silicon occurs as a compound, bound up with other elements. 

Silicon is one of the seven elements that are known as metalloids, which refers to elements that possess the properties of both metals and nonmetals. This makes it ideal for uses in many different industries and is the main component in making alloys (mixing metals with non-metals). Silicon is not only used in the construction industry, but high tech equipment like computer chips, solar panels, and transistors are all made up of silicon. 

The fact that silicon can act as a semiconductor, by allowing control of electrical current, makes it ideal for virtually all electronic equipment. 

Facts About Silicon

Silicon is one of the most interesting elements in the periodic table. Some facts about this element are as follows:

  • Naturally, silicon is not found in its pure state and is always combined with other elements. 
  • Over 90% of the Earth’s crust is made up of silicon-containing compounds. 
  • Most meteorites contain large amounts of silicon. 
  • On the Mohs scale of hardness, silicon carbide scores an impressive 9-9.5, which is slightly less than a diamond. 
  • The hardness of silicon compounds makes them an ideal abrasive for industrial use. 
  • Silicon was first isolated to develop silicon-only crystals in 1854. 
  • Silicon has a higher density in liquid form as compared to when it is solid. 
  • Unlike most metals, the conductivity of silicon improves when the temperature increases.

Properties of Silicon 

Due to its metalloid nature, silicon does not behave like a typical metal or non-metal but shares the properties of both. Certain factors like temperature and combination with other elements affect its behavior and properties. Some properties of silicon are: 

Silicon is a Semiconductor 

Silicon does not behave like a typical metal or nonmetal. This is the reason why silicon is considered as a semiconductor. It can act as a conductor of electrical current or an insulator depending upon the temperature. As the temperature increases, silicon’s conductivity gets better.  

Melting and Boiling Points 

Though silicon is not a pure metal, it is has a very high melting and boiling point. The melting point of silicon is 1410 degrees Celsius, whereas the boiling point is 2355 degrees Celsius. 

Reaction with Other Elements 

Pure silicon is highly reactive. Since there are four valence electrons available, silicon can form an ionic or covalent bond by sharing or giving away its electrons. This is the reason why it is not available in its pure form naturally. In its solid form, silicon remains an inert element and does not react with oxygen or water.

Uses of Silicon 

The structure and properties of silicon make it a suitable element for a number of industries. Though silicon is hardly used in its pure form, silicon compounds are more commonly used for industrial applications. 

Alloy Making 

This metal is widely used in making alloys. It is produced at very high temperatures and when heated, it  can easily react with other elements like iron. Ferrosilicon is one of the most commonly used silicon alloys and is used in the manufacturing of steel. This alloy of iron and silicon gives hardness and strength to steel. It is also used as the prime deoxidizer in steel manufacturing and helps in removing impurities from the steel. 

The aluminum industry also heavily relies on the use of silicon alloys. These alloys are used in welding and manufacturing of molds.  

An electronic mother board for a computer

“Resistors and Transistors”by Andrew Mason is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Electronics 

One of the most important properties of silicon is that it works as a semiconductor. Its high melting point and ability to conduct electricity makes it ideal for its use in the electronics industry. 

Prior to its use for electronic devices, silicon is refined in two stages. First, oxygen is removed from the compound, and then it is further refined to produce hyper pure silicon, which is a semiconductor grade element. Hyperpure silicon is used in the manufacturing of many electronic devices, including transistors, circuit boards, and microchips which have multiple uses. 

A recent milestone in computer technology using silicon-based chips is the invention of quantum computers. These computers can outperform normal computers. Using silicon, these computers can replace normal computers in the near future. 

A recent development in medicine is the use of silicon nanoneedles. These are tiny needles which are used for intracellular drug delivery. 

Solar panels on the roof of a house

“Solar Panel”by Marufish is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Solar Panels 

With climatic changes and a high concentration of greenhouse gases, there is much emphasis on the use of renewable sources of energy. Solar energy is one of the most environmentally friendly sources of energy. Using solar panels, we can easily convert the energy of the sun into electricity without damaging the environment. 

Most solar cells and solar panels are created using silicon because of its physical and chemical properties. Silicon’s ability to work as a semiconductor makes it the most suitable element for solar panels. However, pure silicon is not used as it is a poor conductor. Silicon is mixed with impurities (also known as doping) so that it can absorb the energy from the sun and convert it into electricity. 

Initially, using silicon in the manufacturing of solar panels was an expensive technology. With recent developments in research and technology, silicon solar panels are now affordable for most people. 

Nature has provided mankind with all the resources it needs for survival. It’s up to us how we harness and utilize the bounties of nature without damaging the environment. 

Summary

The discovery of silicon has had a major impact on how we live our lives everyday. Although it is not apparant, it would be hard to imagine how we would live today without the use of silicon.

Ten Gorgeous Diamond Cuts for Engagement Rings

Groom and bride holding hands with ring showing on her fingerDiamonds are eternal, just like the bond with your life partner. That’s why these sparkling rocks are the one and only choice for an engagement ring.

Proposals can leave you in a bundle of nerves but what’s even more stressful is getting the right ring for her. Diamonds come in a variety of clarities, sizes, shapes and cuts and you can pay an arm and a leg for them. Since you are probably going to invest a huge part of your savings on an engagement ring, you should know about some stunning diamond cuts which would surely make her say ‘yes!’

Walking into a jeweler’s shop can be a bit intimidating. One can easily get confused when surrounded by all the different cuts and designs. Before delving into the cuts, it’s important to distinguish between the cut and the shape. The shape is the geometric appearance of the gemstone, whereas a cut is what makes a diamond bright and shiny. A gemstone sparkles when light reflects from it.

Interesting fact: The engagement ring phenomenon dates back to the early days of American exploration. The Puritans had a practice whereby the man would present a thimble to the woman of his dreams for marriage. Yes, a sewing thimble! It seemed to be the practical thing at the time, but once they got married, the wife would cut the thimble into a thin round piece of metal, which in turn she would place on her finger and thus, the wedding band was born.

Diamond Cuts
Set of diamond shapes (different from diamond cuts) Photo: Bigstock

The facets (flat surfaces that allow more light to be reflected; hence, more brilliance) and angles (how the facets are placed on the gem to bring in the most light), their quantity, symmetry, and proportions are all responsible for the reflection of light. A diamond is intricately cut to maximize this reflection, but not all diamonds are equal. Some have fewer quality cuts than others and hence the price difference you will see as you shop, but the better the cut, the more brilliance, the more she will like it, but the more you will pay for it.

Diamond-gem
Diamond with reflection on blue background (Bigstock)

Cutting a diamond too shallow would allow most of the light to pass through the bottom, making this an extremely poor cut. If cut too deep, a diamond would reflect light from its sides and would fail to produce the required gleam and glitter.

A perfectly cut diamond would reflect all its light from its top face and would shine brilliantly. The more radiant a diamond appears, the more expensive it will be. 

Now, let’s look at the ten most popular diamond cuts that would be perfect for an engagement ring.

Round Cut

This cut is one of the most popular and most famous types of cut for engagement rings. About 50% of engagement rings have a round cut diamond. This particular cut gives maximum shine to the diamond, partially due to the large amounts of facts (58) and the ideal position at which they are set. You’ll find a range of grades, styles, and settings for a round cut diamond. A simple gold or platinum ring with an isolated round-cut diamond looks like a personification of “beauty lies in simplicity”. You can also try a solitaire setting to add glamour to this cut. 

Round cut diamonds are considered the most expensive of the cut variations, but they display the most brilliance. You can’t go wrong with a round cut diamond. 

Princess Cut

Diamonds with Princess Cuts
Princess-Cut Diamonds

Also known as a square modified brilliant cut, the princess cut is a popular choice for engagement rings. First created by Betazel Ambar and Israel Itzkowitz in 1980, princess cuts appear like a square or rectangle from the top.

It has four beveled sides and a bottom that resembles an inverted pyramid. You’ll find this cut in 30% of the rings. It looks a bit familiar to the Asscher or Emerald cut but it has more facets at the top as opposed to the flat top face of Asscher.

Emerald Cut

Top face and side view of a princess cut diamond
Emerald Cut Diamond

This cut derives its name from the famous gemstone emerald because these stones are usually cut in this manner. However, this cut looks equally classy for diamonds. It is a stepped cut that seems to have an aura of enduring beauty. Its top face is a narrow rectangle with trimmed corners. Since this cut is not used as frequently as a round or princess cut, it is relatively inexpensive and so a ring with a high-grade emerald cut diamond will cost you less or if you were going to sell one, you won’t get what you would get if you had a round cut stone; however, those with smaller hands prefer the emerald cut because it makes their fingers look longer.   

Oval Cut

Top face and side view of a princess cut diamond
Oval Cut Diamond

Oval cut exhibits a classic and traditional impression. This cut has gained popularity in recent years. It beautifies the hand as it has a lengthening effect. The oval cut is a great choice for East-West trendy rings. It is about 25% more affordable than a round cut diamond ring. Its greater surface area makes the diamond appear bigger. However, an oval cut has one undesirable feature called ‘the bow-tie effect’ which means the cut will show a darker area in the middle if one looked down upon it. The greater the bow tie effect, the poorer the stone quality. Excellent quality diamonds will have a very subtle darker region.

Asscher Cut

Ascher Cut Diamond
Ascher Cut Diamond

Created in the early 1900s, it came into light in the 1920s. It was named after its creators the Asscher Brothers who ran Holland’s Asscher Diamond Company which later became the Royal Asscher Diamond Company. It was an attractive cut with a vintage feel about it. Similar to an emerald cut, it has a square or rectangular appearance with cropped corners. It has 74 large step facets and a high crown which makes yields more brilliance than the emerald cut. It is set in a four-prong setting and reflects light like a never-ending corridor lined with mirrors on all sides. 

Cushion Cut

Cushion Cut Diamond
Cushion Cut Diamond

A cushion-cut, also known as a pillow cut, is made to emphasize clarity. This cut is almost 200 years old which gives it a vintage flair. On the other hand, it looks extremely stylish and modern with a square top face with rounded corners. To further elevate this symbol of understated love, you can mount it in a halo setting for a perfect engagement ring.

Marquise Cut

Marquise Cut Diamonds
Marquise Cut Diamonds

Considered bold and beautiful, Marquise cut is also known as the football-shaped cut, the eye-shaped cut, and the boat-cut. It exudes a dramatic persona with an elliptical shape with pointed ends and 58 facets. Its French history is as interesting as the cut itself. Back in the 18th century King Louis XV of France ordered a jeweler to design a cut inspired by his mistress’ lips. A diamond ring in this cut would require multiple prongs and a setting that can act as a stable base for the stone.

Radiant Cut

Radiant Cut Diamonds
Radiant Cut Diamonds

A radiant cut gets its name from its matchless radiance. Since a radiant cut diamond has numerous facets, it reflects light in all directions and appears luminous. This cut also has a square or rectangle shape with trimmed corners. Looking directly into the top face of the stone would reveal a circular pattern in the center. 

Pear Cut

Pear Cut Diamonds
Pear Cut Diamonds

This would be an ideal cut for those looking for something elegant and sophisticated. The pear cut has the best features of marquise and round cut diamonds. It is so beautifully proportioned that it looks like an angel’s teardrop. It makes the hand appear slender due to its pointed corner. The cut makes the diamond look bigger than it actually is.   

Heart Cut

Diamonds in heart shape cutA heart cut diamond looks very exquisite and lovely. When buying a ring with a heart-cut diamond, make sure you check its proportions closely. Give enough attention to the body and the cleft of the heart shape. This cut would require a setting with more prongs.

So there you have it. The diamond cuts, their variety and price ranges. Do you know what to buy her now? If not, check out our article on the 4 Cs of diamonds. By then, you can consider yourself an expert or at least have enough knowledge to get the right diamond ring that she will never forget!

A Guide on How to Buy Ethical Diamonds

Marquise Cut Diamonds
Marquise Cut Diamonds

This universal symbol of love and commitment does unfortunately have a dark side. A side we as consumers are never exposed to with the exception of possible seeing it being addressed in the movies or on the news. 

The illegal diamond trade, especially in conflict zones is filled with problems rangings from the exploitation of labor (in some cases, children) to using the money for war funds. 

Problems Related to Purchasing Ethical Diamonds 

With the spread of information, people are now more aware of purchasing a diamond that has been sourced ethically and in an environmentally friendly way. The most prevalent problems associated with purchasing ethically sourced diamonds are as follows. 

The Misleading Nature of Conflict Free Diamonds 

You may have heard the term conflict diamonds also known as blood diamonds. This phrase was first coined in the 1990s when rebel groups were taking over mines in western and central Africa. Once the mines were in their control, the rebels would illegally trade diamonds for money and weapons to stage bloody wars against governments and civilians. 

To tackle this problem the Kimberly Process Certification System was established in 2003 to stop the flow of blood diamonds. But the problem with this process is that it only ensures that the diamonds aren’t fuelling any rebel wars. It doesn’t take into account diamonds tainted by violence, environmental harm or child labor.

The Kimberley Process has duped buyers in regard to ethically sourced diamonds. Diamonds certified under this process does not take into consideration those who have mined or the environment and surrounding communities. Conflict-free diamonds are only regulated to ensure that they don’t fund rebels without giving other aspects any regard. 

Most Diamonds are Not Traceable to Their Origins

As much as most people would like to believe it, most diamonds are not traceable to their origins like other products such as organic produce. The reason for this is that a diamond changes many hands from mining to retail and not all of them are honest. 

Thought most of the diamonds mined today are done so industrially, there is still no reliable method to distinguish a corrupt diamond from an ethically sourced one. The reason being that despite the technical advancements, there is still no way to trace a diamond back to its original source. 

What Should an Ethically Conscious Buyer Do 

Canadian Diamonds

Canada isn’t the country that comes to mind when you think about diamonds. The main reason is that it is a relatively new source for diamond production. Diamonds were first discovered in the 1990s and Canada has now emerged as a major supplier of high-quality diamonds, many of which are able to be traced back to the source. 

Though they may be more expensive, Canadian diamonds are mined in accordance with strict adherence to fair labor laws and environmental standards. 

Diamond Details 

Do not settle on a diamond simply because it has been verified through the Kimberly Process or because the retailer gives vague assurances about the supplier. 

Consumers need to ask questions about their diamonds and not settle for an easy answer. You can also ask for a guarantee of the diamond origin by asking for a credible certificate of origin such as CanadaMark for Canadian diamonds. Even independent bodies such as the Jeweltree Foundation are promoting ethical business practices in the diamond and are also able to issue a credible certificate of origin. 

Know Your Supplier 

Buy from suppliers that make a commitment to ethical sourcing and have a sound reputation in the market for giving back to the communities living around the mines. For instance, De Beers Forevermark diamonds are guaranteed by the company to be ethically mined following stringent criteria throughout the entire supply chain. Though these diamonds cannot be traced to the exact mines where the stones were extracted from but De Beers invests in local schools and hospitals around mining communities, especially in Botswana. Other companies that are known to engage in ethical sourcing and investing back in mining communities include Tiffany, Cartier, and Signet. 

Recycled Diamonds 

Thought it might seem like a strange option, recycled diamonds are the world’s largest diamond resource according to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). 

Recycled diamonds are gaining a lot of popularity nowadays, especially amongst buyers looking to avoid the environmental and ethical issues associated with tainted stones. They have no stark differences when compared to a freshly mined diamond. Recycled diamonds are often re-polished and re-cut after being separated from their original mount. 

Other Alternatives 

Synthetic diamonds or lab-created diamonds are great options for buyers seeking environmentally friendly and ethically sourced rocks. These stones are completely man-made and free of risk to miners or the environment while looking like real diamonds. 

Countries to Avoid 

You should avoid purchasing diamonds from countries like Angola and Zimbabwe where there are numerous instances of abuses in and around mines, verified by credible institutions such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. 

African nations such as Botswana and Namibia are good options for ethically sourced stones. These countries have a good reputation of ensuring that the income generated from diamond mining created jobs and promotes development. Laws that give rights to miners are also strictly enforced by these countries. 

Final Thoughts 

Buying diamonds is much like buying any other commodity or investment; you conduct your research and make a decision based on what feels right.

Sierra Leone Miners
Sierra Leone Miners

The 4C’s of Emeralds

An emerald gemstone in organic conditionEmerald, a deep green rare gemstone that symbolizes peace and tranquility. Emeralds are loved for their color as it beautifies your jewelry and according to legend, gives you calmness and relaxes your nerves. 

Buying an emerald is not as tricky as buying a diamond. Knowing the physical attributes of a gemstone can help you make the right choice. The 4C’s which are used to evaluate a diamond can also be used to choose the right emerald. However, a different significance is assigned to each C when assessing emeralds. By using the information about the 4C’s of emeralds, you can find a gemstone which is the right value for your money. 

Color 

Color is by far the most important C when evaluating an emerald. The best emeralds range from bluish green to pure green with bright tone and color saturation and which is not too dark, in contrast to diamonds where a colorless diamond is what brings in the most value. When you look at an emerald, it is either a bright vibrant green or a dull, limp color or possibly something in between. 

Trace elements like chromium, vanadium, and iron give color to an emerald. The presence or absence of each of these trace elements determines the exact color of the crystal. 

Color can be broken up into three categories – hue, tone, and saturation

Hue 

Hue means the type of green color an emerald has. Most emeralds sold in the market today range from bluish green to dark green. If the color is too yellowish or bluish, it is not an emerald and the value will be lower compared to the original emerald.  

The emerald market is saturated with Columbian emeralds and most Columbian emeralds have a more intense pure green color. Whereas Zambian emeralds are said to have a cooler, more bluish green color.  

Tone 

The tone of an emerald stone determines its value. It classifies the stone in terms of light and dark. A good quality, naturally occurring emerald falls somewhere between very light and very dark. 

It is believed that the darker the tone, better is the emerald. However, this is not true. An emerald with a medium tone is ideal for purchase, but it is important to look at the hue and saturation of the crystal as well. 

Saturation 

Saturation of an emerald refers to the intensity and strength of the green color of the crystal. Saturation can vary on a scale of dull to vivid. An emerald with dull saturation is likely to have more grey. Grey will reduce the saturation and give a dull look to the stone. Therefore, emeralds with visible grey should be avoided. 

When you are evaluating the color of an emerald for your jewelry, make sure you go for a crystal that is greenish in color, has a medium tone and vivid saturation. You can fall in love with the green color of emeralds with the right saturation and tone.    

Clarity 

Unlike diamonds where the value diminishes when there are inclusions, emeralds contain them and are visible to the eye without the aid of any equipment. In fact, 99% of the naturally occurring emeralds have inclusions. The GIA organizes emeralds as Type 3 which means that there are always inclusions. If you don’t see any inclusion, you need to check if the emerald is real or not. 

Inclusions are not necessarily bad for emeralds. Emeralds belong to the beryl mineral family and the inclusions are a result of liquids, gases and minerals like chromium and vanadium. As with diamonds, emeralds with better clarity are sold at a higher price in the market. When the inclusion affects the transparency and clarity of the stone, it can dramatically reduce its value.  

However, you need to be careful about the type of inclusions you see in an emerald crystal. Typical emerald inclusions resemble branches and roots. So if you see inclusions that look like bubbles and big blotches, the emerald is not for you.  

Cut

Just like with diamonds, the cutter of an emerald must consider the depth of color, durability and inclusions when making the decisions about cutting the stone. Mistakes in cutting can seriously affect the value of this precious gem and can result in considerable weight loss.

Ideally, an emerald should be cut in a symmetrical manner so that the appropriate amount of light can pass through the stone. If cut too deeply, the light will escape on the side and the emerald will look dark. Similarly, if the cut is too shallow, the emerald will not appear brilliance. Since color is a very important consideration when choosing an emerald, the cut must maximize the hue, tone and saturation of the stone.  

The best cut for an emerald is the “emerald cut”. It is a rectangular or square cut which maximizes the shape of the rough and allows maximum light to flow in giving the right brilliance and tone to the stone. Apart from the emerald cuts, there are round and oval cuts but they are expensive and result in a lot of wastage.

One important factor when cutting is an emerald is that all emeralds have natural occurring inclusions and fissures. A cutter must design the cut in a way that the finished stone has minimal impact on the clarity of the stone. 

Carat Weight  

The weight of emeralds is measured in Carats where each carat is equal to 0.02 grams. The emeralds with the Royal family and in the museums weigh hundreds of carats and are extremely valuable. In comparison, the popular size of emeralds used in jewelry is between 0.25 and 1.5 carats. 

An emerald with more carat weight will be more expensive compared to a smaller emerald keeping all other factors the same.

Choosing a rare gemstone can be tricky for an untrained person. With more information about the 4C’s of emeralds, you can surely make a more informed decision when choosing emeralds for your jewelry.