Sunday, August 2, 2009

Silicon + Oxygen

Equals silica, or in geo-speak, quartz. Take very pure quartz, remove the oxygen, and you have silicon again. Melt the silicon and persuade it to recrystallize into a single, carefully-oriented, large, cylindrical crystal and you have the central resource that has reshaped the world during the last 30 to 40 years: the beginnings of a computer chip. I guess I had always assumed that the quartz used in this industry came from supermature, multi-generational sandstones.

But the BBC seems to be telling me (albeit sort of vaguely) that it mostly comes from a pegmatite in North Carolina.
Wow. The three minerals I'm pretty sure I recognize here are mica (the hand is holding a sheet apparently peeled from the large book in the center; probably muscovite), orthoclase (the ligher creamy blobs), and quartz (the darker material around the creamy blobs). The article emphasizes the mining company's secretiveness regarding the process by which they take this rock and process it into pure silica, but I'm still a little surprised that the rock above is the best starting material.

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