Potential Element of Alien Bodies: Silicon

Potential Element of Alien Bodies: Silicon

We wouldn’t be exaggerating if we say that silicon is the most popular element that has left its mark on the last century. Almost all of the electronic devices we use now work thanks to the semiconductor property of silicon. But it’s not just technology companies that can’t take their eyes off silicon. It has a beauty that will dazzle the eyes of science fiction writers.

Its similarity with the element carbon makes it top of the list of alternative source of life element candidates”.

Ability to Read the Periodic Table Correctly

Each language has its own reading rules. For example, languages ​​using the Latin alphabet, such as Turkish and English, are read from left to right. However, in the Arabic language, it is read from right to left.

In order for the periodic table to yield meaningful results, we often need to read from top to bottom. These vertical sections in the periodic table that go from top to bottom are called columns. Elements in a column often show similar properties to each other.

Periodic table

The Element That Makes Us Who We Are: Carbon

When we come to the 14th group in the periodic table, we encounter the element that makes us who we are: Carbon. Living things are based on carbon. All organic life comes to life thanks to this element. There are many reasons behind carbon’s creation of life. We can say that the most basic reason is that carbon can make four bonds. Carbon, which can form four bonds, can combine with many different elements and form tightly bonded long-chain compounds. This means that unimaginably different matters can be formed.

pexels dexter fernandes 2646237

In the beginning, we said that the language of the periodic table can be understood by looking at the columns. Elements in these columns showed similar properties to each other. The element in the 14th group, just below carbon, is silicon. Silicon can form four bonds, just like carbon, which means it can form many different substances. However, silicon atoms cannot form long chains like carbon atoms. But, the number of silicon compounds in nature is much greater than that of any chemical element.

Replacing Your Neurons with Silicon Is Possible, In Theory!

This similarity of silicon with carbon excited science fiction writers. The idea that it could be a key element of alternative alien life sounds pretty plausible.

Silicon has a property that will change world history: semiconductivity. Almost all of the technological devices we use now work thanks to silicon transistors. In fact, current studies in artificial intelligence suggest that silicon can create “brains” as advanced as carbon-based ones. Theoretically, there is no obstacle in our ability to replace every neuron in our brain with “silicon transistors”.

Silicon Valley 

Today, there is a place that is considered the center of technology: Silicon Valley. All major technology companies have working environments that everyone dreams of in this region. 

Entrance to Silicon Valley
Entrance to Silicon Valley

Could Silicon Really Be an Alternative Source of Life?

Before answering this question, we need to make a comparison with a molecule we throw out every second: carbon dioxide (CO2) This molecule has a very critical role in our lives and exists in the gaseous state at room conditions. So, what about the compound that our sister element silicon will make with oxygen? The SiO2 compound is found in nature as a solid and does not become a gas until 2204°C. Since breathing solids at the cellular level is not applicable, the use of silicon in life seems unlikely at the moment.

Silicon and Carbon
Silicon and Carbon
Image Source: PlanetPailly

Another disadvantage is that silicon is a bit chubbier and bulkier than carbon. As you move down the periodic table, elements begin to gain weight. Chubby elements also move more slowly. This is one of the factors that affect the activity of an element. Since even milliseconds are critical for the reactions in our body, it is very important to have an element that pays attention to the shape of the ideal element.

References and Further Readings

Kean, S. (2011). The disappearing spoon: And other true tales of madness, love, and the history of the world from the periodic table of the elements. New York: Back Bay Books/Little, Brown.

Vlasov, LN, & Trifonov, DN (1977). 107 stories about chemistry. Moscow: Mir.

You can access the sources of the images used by clicking on the images.

The proofreading has been done by Asu Pelin Akköse and Mete Esencan.

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Mete Esencan

Hello everyone! I'm Mete Esencan. I am a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at METU. I was planning to establish a platform by combining the research knowledge I gained during my basic science education and the management experience I gained in the METU Chemistry Society, which I was in charge of for three years. For this purpose, in February of 2021, I took the first step and established the OkButWhy, a platform where we can write articles as if to chat about science, art and philosophy. I wish everyone a pleasant reading!

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