Silicone rubber is a modern type of elastomer. It is different to organic polymers such as latex, rubber and polyurethane because of its mineral composition. Its base material, silicon, exists naturally, mainly as quartz and as silicates.
Amazingly, these represent 26 percent of the total weight of the Earth’s crust. Humans began using silicon during the Stone Age when quartz and other materials made up of silica formed the basis of early tools; however, it was not until 1823 that a chemist from Sweden, Jons Jacob Berzelius, managed to isolate silicon.
The chemical element, silicon, is used to produce the synthetic silicone rubber. While silicon can be used in glass, concrete and ceramic bricks, silicone has a wider set of uses because of its distinct properties.
From silicon to silicone
Silicone rubber is very like neoprene in that it is a compound that is manufactured from the underlying chemical element. An English chemist, Frederick Kipping, started to research how to polymerise silicon; then, in 1930s, America Corning Glass commissioned a chemist named Hyde to try to use silicon to create a material like a resin that would be useful for insulating generators and motors that operated at high temperatures. Hyde built on what Kipping had discovered and produced silicone – the name that Kipping gave to the new compound.
Corning Glass and Dow Chemical – companies that would eventually become Dow Corning – began to manufacture rubber silicone products such as wire insulation, aviation equipment and sealing compounds.
Silcone surprises with what it can do
It is notable that throughout its history, silicone has been used for fun as well as for serious applications; for example, Dow Corning made Silly Putty a favourite toy for children. In 1970, 3M took a silicone base and from it produced an adhesive tape that had the remarkable property of sticking to things yet being easily removable. The Post-It note was born.
In the present day, silicone rubber products provide the casings for mobile phones, gaskets in cars, medical devices such as prosthetic limbs, heat resistant kitchen equipment, and many other applications. A silicone hose manufacturer such as goodflexrubber.com can demonstrate the range of applications in which silicone hoses can be used.
One thing is certain – silicone has many more surprises in store for us in the years to come.