It’s a product that enhances our everyday lives, from Gel Ovations pressure relieving gel pads in healthcare, to cake moulds and construction to vital construction sealant.

So prevalent is it that we tend to take Silicone for granted without a second thought. As leading manufacturers of Dimensional Gel Pads for pressure ulcer prevention, we bring you a brief history of this remarkable product.

Technically silicone is a modern elastomer. It differs from the organic elastomers such as polyurethane, latex, and natural rubber options being mineral in nature. Silicone is made with silicon and oxygen, combined with carbon and hydrogen.

It’s a unique material because of its versatility; for delicate uses such as teats of baby bottles, yet tough enough to be used in jet engines! This is because silicone rubber is stable enough to withstand extreme temperatures and environments, including extreme heat.

The History of Silicone

Jons Jacob Berzelius

Jons Jackob Berzelius

During the Stone Age, silica-based stones and quartz were used to create new tools. Oxygen and silicon are two of the most prevalent elements in the crust of the Earth, and you can mostly find them in rocks as silicates and silica.

These have been important since Ancient Times for both protection and for survival. Next, the Romans stepped in and started the transformation of silica into glass. Later, as soon as scientists learned this was how to make glass, they worked on solutions to extract silica from sand during the 19th century.

During the 19th century, silicone rubber was developed in leaps and bounds and it actually had to be discovered as an element first.

Henri Sainte-Claire Deville

Henry Sainte-Claire Deville

In 1824, the Swedish chemist Jöns Jackob Berzelius was the first person to succeed in isolating silicon on its own. With techniques employing potassium, silicon was extracted before being heated in chlorine.

This then led to vigorous combustion and the result was the silicon tetrachloride which is used to produce silicones today. Although Berzelius is recognised as the founder of silicon, it was Henri Sainte-Claire Deville who discovered the more common crystalized form 31 years later.

During the process of electrolysis smelting, Deville obtained pure silicon and throughout the remainder of the 19th century, chemists continued their research. When we arrived in the mid-20th century, chemists developed silicone rubber for other commercial purposes.

Frederick Stanley Kipping

Frederick Stanley Kipping

Dr. James Franklin Hyde first researched how to produce those commercial silicones in 1930.

His work combined the advantages of both glass and plastics, organic and inorganic chemistry. This lead to the commercial production of silicones at Dow Corning Corporation.

Dr. Hyde (on right) with Dr. W.R. Collings in Hyde’s laboratory in 1966

Dr. Hyde (on right) with Dr. W.R. Collings in Hyde’s laboratory in 1966

It was the British chemist, Frederick Stanley Kipping,  who named the new material as silicones in 1940. He thought that they were a sticky mess, but didn’t quite see the potential of silicone rubber, believing that there was no practical use for it.

In the later 20th century, the use of resins, elastomers and silicone rubber was rising. For example, the silicon used in computer chips was behind the naming of the famous Silicon Valley in the United States.

Benefits of Silicone

There are many benefits of using silicone and the list includes:

  • Silicone has excellent flexibility at lower temperatures, but it’s very resistant to high temperatures at the same time. Temperature balance is important when using silicone in the right setting and the three different forms of silicone can be used depending on the need
  • Excellent compression set
  • There is a high resistance to certain chemicals and environmental influences that can impact silicone rubber – especially in outdoor use
  • The surface of silicone rubber is often water repellant, which again is helpful for outdoor use
  • Silicone has excellent transparency, which means that it can be easily coloured with appropriate pigments
  • Silicone has great mechanical properties without breaking easily
  • Silicone as a material is non-toxic and has great flame resistance, so it doesn’t melt up to 300 degrees. If there’s a fire, silicone is far less likely to degrade
  • It’s tasteless and odourless, (though it should not be eaten of course)
  • Silicone can be processed easily and moves through the production process with ease
  • You can adjust silicone from insulating to semiconducting electrically.
  • There’s a high radiation resistance to silicone

How We Use Silicone Today

We use silicone in everyday life and half the time, we don’t even know that we’re doing it! Thanks to extensive research and continued use, we can learn how silicone is working in our day to day lives and keep using it in the right areas. Below, we’ve got a list of some of the everyday uses of silicone:

  • Construction. The construction industry uses silicone for many reasons because of its stable nature. The fact that it’s adhesive is a big plus. Silicone is used to bind building materials together, including plastics, concrete and glass
  • Electronics. Our everyday electronics often have silicone within them, and you can find them in everyday electronic devices including the smartphone. Without silicone seals, you’ll find your smartphone much more susceptible to water damage. With the phone covers made of silicone, you can protect the phone properly and not worry about water damage
  • Aviation. The doors and windows of an airplane have silicone adhesives to seal the most important parts. They also work for jet engines, fuel tanks and vents, too.
  • At home. Baby bottle teats, ice cube moulds, plastic gloves, cookware – all of these can be found in the home and all of these use silicone
  • Medical devices. Did you know that silicone is resistant to bacteria? It’s for this reason (among others) that it’s an ideal material for medical devices like catheters, heart pumps and defibrillators
  • Gels. Medical grade Silicone gels are used across the medical industry in things like implants for breast reconstruction surgeries and also used for silicone gel pads on seating areas and wheelchairs. These prevent damage to the skin and they prevent pressure ulcers, too. Silicone gel mimics the consistency of human fat, making it ideal for us in Gel Ovations Dimensional Gel

If you want to learn more about silicone gels and how they will help, speak to the experts at Gel Ovations today.

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