Are computer chips made out of sand?

The first integrated circuits were developed in Germany in 1949. Image: Shutterstock

The small integrated circuits are usually built out of semiconducting materials such as quartz.

Computer chips are made of sand, but not just any kind of sand. Scientifically speaking, the term “sand” is an expression of a certain grain size — 0.063 to 2 mm, to be precise.

Computer chips are made of silicon, which is a semiconductor, andm in order to make the most efficient use of it, chip manufacturers use sand that contains as much silicon as possible.

The mineral quartz is ideal for this purpose because its two main components are silicon and oxygen. Quartz is a very common mineral, present in many types of rock; and sand often has a high quartz content because it’s mostly pulverised rock.

In its pure form, quartz is a colourless mineral, which explains why many non-tropical beaches have white sand, but ordinary beach sand is unfit for the manufacturing of computer chips. The process requires sand with a very high quartz content from a rock called quartzite, which is made of 99 per cent pure quartz. These types of rocks are formed from sand that was squeezed together over time and heated deep in the Earth, so that almost all other elements have disappeared from the rock.

Sand has a high concentration of quartz. Image: Shutterstock

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