Silicones, or polysiloxanes, are inorganic polymers consisting of a silicon-oxygen backbone (...-Si-O-Si-O-Si-O-...) with side groups attached to the silicon atoms. Certain organic side groups can be used to link two or more of these -Si-O- backbones together. By varying the -Si-O- chain lengths, side groups, and crosslinking, silicones can be synthesized into a wide variety of materials. They can vary in consistency from liquid to gel to rubber to hard plastic. The most common type is linear polydimethylsiloxane or PDMS. The second largest group of silicone materials is based on silicone resins, which are formed by branched and cage-like oligosiloxanes.
Silicones are odorless, colorless, water resistant, chemical resistant, oxidation resistant, stable at high temperature, and do not conduct electricity. They have many uses, such as lubricants, adhesives, sealants, gaskets, breast implants, pressure compensating diaphragms for drip irrigation emitters, sex toys, dishware, and Silly Putty. An enormous controversy developed during the 1990s around allegations that the silicones in breast implants were responsible for several diseases. Health concerns included pain, deformity and the less obviously related connective tissue disorders (eg. scleroderma, arthritis) and chronic fatigue syndrome. Leakage of silicone from implants could be demonstrated easily but proof of its safety or otherwise was lacking. The Dow Corning corporation declared bankruptcy and settled several class actions globally; later, good evidence emerged clearing silicone of causing connective tissue disease. Silicone implants have been removed from the market in some countries (notably the US) because of the silicone controversy but are extensively used elsewhere.
Silicone is often mistaken colloquially for elemental silicon, because of the similarity in pronunciation and spelling, but they are entirely different. For example, in the Shakira song "Objection (Tango)", the lyrics "next to her cheap silicon I look minimal" should be "next to her cheap silicone I look minimal."
The word "silicone" is derived from ketone, and is technically not the correct term for the polymers this article describes. A true silicone group has a double bond between oxygen and silicon (see figure), like a ketone group with Si in place of C (the same terminology is used for compounds such as silane, which is an analogue of methane). Polysiloxanes are called "silicone" due to an early mistaken assumption about their structure, but it has since been shown that they contain no silicone groups at all. For an idea of what a genuine polysilicone molecule would look like, see polyketone.
- SRC Elastomerics, Inc. Silicone Rubber and Elastomerics Custom Manufacturer (SRC Elastomerics, Inc.)
- Silicone Polymers (Virtual Chembook, Elmhurst College)
- Science of Silicone Polymers (Silicone Science On-line, Centre EuropĂ©en des Silicones - CES)
- Silicon Chemistry (Silicon Chemistry Basics, Dow Corning)