Thursday, August 9, 2018

Spruce Pine silica highlighted in new book


Wired Magazine has an excerpt from Vince Beiser’s new book, The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization. The excerpt focuses on the silica found in the Spruce Pine Mining District. (The subhead reads “The processor that makes your laptop or cell phone work was fabricated using quartz from this obscure Appalachian backwater.”)

Searching the book at Google Books brings up only a few references to the use of silica in ceramics (“ceramic” and “ceramics” show up on just two pages each and “pottery” on just one). Glass appears to have a bigger presence (“glass” shows up on 69 pages).

Here’s the beginning of the Wired excerpt:

FRESH FROM CHURCH on a cool, overcast Sunday morning in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, Alex Glover slides onto the plastic bench of a McDonald’s booth. He rummages through his knapsack, then pulls out a plastic sandwich bag full of white powder. “I hope we don’t get arrested,” he says. “Someone might get the wrong idea.”

GLOVER IS A recently retired geologist who has spent decades hunting for valuable minerals in the hillsides and hollows of the Appalachian Mountains that surround this tiny town. He is a small, rounded man with little oval glasses, a neat white mustache, and matching hair clamped under a Jeep baseball cap. He speaks with a medium‑strength drawl that emphasizes the first syllable and stretches some vowels, such that we’re drinking CAWWfee as he explains why this remote area is so tremendously important to the rest of the world.

Spruce Pine is not a wealthy place. Its downtown consists of a somnambulant train station across the street from a couple of blocks of two‑story brick buildings, including a long‑closed movie theater and several empty storefronts.

The wooded mountains surrounding it, though, are rich in all kinds of desirable rocks, some valued for their industrial uses, some for their pure prettiness. But it’s the mineral in Glover’s bag—snowy white grains, soft as powdered sugar—that is by far the most important these days. It’s quartz, but not just any quartz. Spruce Pine, it turns out, is the source of the purest natural quartz—a species of pristine sand—ever found on Earth. This ultra‑elite deposit of silicon dioxide particles plays a key role in manufacturing the silicon used to make computer chips. In fact, there’s an excellent chance the chip that makes your laptop or cell phone work was made using sand from this obscure Appalachian backwater. “It’s a billion‑dollar industry here,” Glover says with a hooting laugh. “Can’t tell by driving through here. You’d never know it.”


Read the full excerpt here: https://www.wired.com/story/book-excerpt-science-of-ultra-pure-silicon/

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