The first scientific proposal for silicon-based life extends back to 1891 and the ideas of German astrophysicist Julius Scheiner. Since that time scientists have debated the prospects of silicon-based life—with some embracing its plausibility and others dismissing it. But as a team of astrobiologists from MIT have recently pointed out, to date no one has systematically and comprehensively assessed the capacity of silicon to support life in both a terrestrial environment and plausible nonterrestrial settings. They tackle this problem in a 2020 review article published in the journal Life in which they present a detailed evaluation of silicon's life-support capacity.
Before it's possible to assess the usefulness of silicon as a chemical framework for life, it's necessary to identify the general chemical requirements for life. The team from MIT notes that any life-supporting chemical element must display sufficient chemical diversity. This chemical diversity is required to produce the chemical complexity necessary to generate the diverse collection of molecular structures and chemical operations required to originate and sustain living systems.
Silicon (from the Latin word silex, silicis for flint) is the fourteenth element of the periodic table and has an atomic weight of 28.083. Elemental silicon has never been found in nature in a free state. It occurs as combined with other elements such as oxygen, alkaline and alkali metal etc. As silica and silicates it accounts for approximately 25% of the earth's crust.
Silicon is a very important element for human use in the form of very pure non-metal for manufacture of semiconductor, chips, microprocessor, IC and so on. The pure element is also the raw material for a series of organo-silicon compounds with a wide use from special electrical insulators to breast implant jelly to special lubricants used in extreme conditions, special elastomers as rubber substitutes. The derivatives can be a wide range of polymers from light oily liquids to high molecular weight rubbers.
We may not understand its full potential at present, but the range of remarkable properties offered by silicon means that it is likely to be at the forefront of any technological advances. After all, as Bill Gates once said, "There will always be ignorance, and ignorance leads to fear. But with time, people will come to accept their silicon masters.
|Melting point||1414°C, 2577°F, 1687 K
|Boiling point||3265°C, 5909°F, 3538 K
|Density (g cm−3)||2.3296
|Relative atomic mass||28.085
|State at 20°C||Solid
|Key isotopes||28Si, 30Si|
|Electron configuration||[Ne]3s2 3p2||CAS number||7440-21-3|
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