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The Evolution of Silicon Science

For additional  information about Silicon Technology, visit the  Silicon Technologycenter

The beginning of silicon science starts in nature. Sand, or silica, is the fine residue of quartz rock and is made up of the two most abundant elements in Earth’s crust – oxygen and silicon. Silicon-based materials have been of technological importance throughout recorded history. Initially, quartz and silica-based stones were fashioned into tools to enhance survival. Later, glass and ceramic technologies developed. The new silicon-based technologies of optics and electronics followed, in response to the changing demands of an evolving world. Today, silicon science continues to evolve in pace with the demanding needs of our society – and Dow Corning is there.  

Dow Corning Corporation was formed in 1943 as a joint venture between Corning Glass Works (now Corning Incorporated) and The Dow Chemical Company, which continue to own equal shares today. The company was established specifically to explore the potential of silicon-based materials.

 The First Commercial Era of Silicon-Based Materials (1943-1960)

This period was dominated by the classical siloxane, poly(dimethylsiloxane) fluids, elastomers, and simple methyl and phenyl resins. Poly(dimethylsiloxane) was the backbone of this growing industry and offered a myriad of commercial applications. Its uses included mechanical applications, surface treatments, and cosmetic and biomedical applications in which the unique properties of these materials could be utilized. These are some of Dow Corning’s innovations during this era:

  • Before Dow Corning was formed, high-altitude flight seemed impossible. Planes could only maintain high altitudes for a few minutes because of ignition loss and moisture in the engines. However, a simple silicone grease –DOW CORNING® 4 compound – was the solution that ushered in a new age of aviation.
  • Dow Corning offered methyl fluids and insulating resins.
  •  SIGHT SAVERS eyeglass cleaners were introduced as Dow Corning’s first consumer product.
  • Dow Corning developed a new silicone for waterproofing. Dow Corning fluids were soon the standard water-repellant treatments for paper and textiles.
  • In the early days, electrical devices were not known for their reliability. Silicone offered excellent electrical insulation capabilities, but the industry was slow to accept this. Dow Corning started distributing its own insulated wire. Within months, manufacturers started using silicone insulation on their wiring.
  • Researchers at a major cosmetics company read about a silicone leather treatment and called Dow Corning. Could the unique properties of silicones help dry, damaged human skin? When the resulting hand lotion was introduced, it was the first personal care product with silicones.
  • When one of Dow Corning’s silicone coatings was used on the transfer surface of adhesive tape, the adhesive remained without losing its stickiness. This became Dow Corning’s first modern silicone release coating and the foundation for a new generation of tape products.
  • Dow Corning implemented technology to manufacture hyper-pure polycrystalline silicon to produce materials for computer chips. The Hemlock, Michigan, site was selected for the first fully integrated polycrystalline silicon plant.
  • Dow Corning developed silicone sealants, caulks, and adhesives for architectural applications. This changed the face of architecture forever. Since then, seamless structures of glass, ceramic, and metal have reached for the skies.


The Second Era (1960-1980)

The explosive growth during this period was fueled by several advances, including the development of fluorosiloxanes, silicon-polyethers surfactants, and silanes with organic functional groups. These new materials – combined with advances in our ability to design specialty materials – gave rise to new sealants, rubbers, coatings and glazing compounds that gave architects and construction engineers new degrees of design freedom. However, these advances were not limited to the construction arenas. Silicon-based substances were used to create new coating and encapsulants for the electronics industry, medical-grade tubing for health care, and new products for aerospace. Some of this era’s innovations include:

  • A Dow Corning silicone rubber material was used for the heat shield in the first manned suborbital space flight.
  • The first imprint that Neil Armstrong left on lunar soil was made with a silicone rubber boot sole. In addition, new silicone materials used in the lunar and command modules were critical to the Apollo crew’s safety and support systems.
  • A premature infant had digestive tract problems and could not receive adequate nutrition by venous drip methods. A tiny intravenous catheter from Dow Corning worked and has since been used around the world.


The Third Era: Materials (1980-2000)

Materials, components, and systems are often regarded as separate and sequential levels of integration. But this old paradigm is no longer valid for the development of advanced materials.  The commercial opportunities and implications of this blurring distinction are immense for material science and those who practice the art. Dow Corning’s advances include:

  • As asbestos brake linings disappeared from automobiles, corrosion problems appeared. Dow Corning developed a friction-control additive that provided moisture protection and high heat stability – putting a “stop” to the problem.
  • Dow Corning put 15 newly developed automotive products to the test at Le Mans and proved once again that there’s no challenge that silicones cannot endure.
  • Acoustic tests on a Jaguar XJ6 in development showed that interior noise was too loud for a luxury performance car. Dow Corning met the challenge by injecting foam-in-place, sound-absorbing silicone into select points on the auto’s body.
  • The world watched as Texas rescuers frantically worked to free 18-month-old Jessica McClure, trapped 20 feet down a narrow well shaft. Millions sighed with relief when she was rescued. But the episode only ended when doctors, using Dow Corning skin expanders, repaired her injuries, leaving just the faintest of scars.
  • DOW CORNING® low VOC silicone conformal coating was developed to protect electronic components and printed wiring boards. This product combines abrasion resistance with the benefit of reduced volatile organic compounds (VOCs) use.
  • Dow Corning’s new liquid silicone rubber coatings made advanced automobile airbag technology possible and improved performance of the airbag.
  • Dow Corning’s SYL-OFF® high speed process aid was introduced to boost the output of pressure-sensitive release coating equipment. The product also eases clean-up and improves worker safety.
  • Dow Corning’s FOx® flowable oxide was developed to help prevent the misdirection of electrical signals on computer chips. To help the environment, the product uses an ozone-safe carrier solvent.


The Current Era of Silicon

In addition to the excitement that surrounds our new science is an excitement of vision for new commercial applications. For example, Dow Corning and Genencor International created a strategic alliance to combine their expertise in biotechnology and silicon chemistry to create a new, proprietary Silicon Biotechnology™ technology platform.

Dow Corning has also formed strategic alliances to develop the next generation of products, including photonic crystal technology for optical communications devices, silicone resin formulations for defense applications, and advances using nanotechnology.

The global leader in silicon-based materials, Dow Corning currently offers more than 7,000 products and services to customers around the world.

Additional Information

The Advantage of Silicon-Based Materials (PDF size =  19 KB)

Everyday Uses of Silicon-Based  Products (PDF size =  19 KB)

Or visit: Silicon Technology

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