Detonating silicon wafers can ID elements

9:30am, January 16, 2002

In a serendipitous discovery, chemists have found a convenient way to make silicon–the stuff of computer chips–explode on command.

Wafers of specially processed silicon might someday serve in miniature propulsion systems, ignition systems for explosives, or portable detectors for identifying water contaminants, says Michael J. Sailor of the University of California, San Diego, who led the research.

As early as 1992, chemists reported creating small explosions when they put nitric acid onto silicon wafers that had been processed to have myriad tiny pores. Since then, other researchers have found that porous silicon explodes under certain extreme conditions, including ultralow temperatures.

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