Books  Ecological & Biological Sciences  Physical Sciences  Physics 

Sand and Silicon: Science That Changed the World

Popular Science

By: Denis McWhan

160 pages, 23 b/w photos, 34 b/w line drawings

Oxford University Press

Hardback | Feb 2012 | #195131 | ISBN-13: 9780199640270
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £29.95 $39/€34 approx

About this book

This is a story about sand and how science and silicon changed our lives. Over the last century, science taught us how to take this most common material and create the products on which we depend. It allows us to determine the atomic structure of materials and to grow novel, new materials atomic layer by atomic layer. The principles of thermodynamics are used to transform sand into ultra pure silicon. Quantum mechanics gave birth to the electronic age and the computer chip in which dopants are precisely placed in ultra pure silicon. The absorption and emission and reflection of quanta of light, photons, underlies solar cells, light emitting diodes, radiation detectors and optical fibers. This book follows the history of these scientific discoveries and relates them to the products made from sand.

The book although pitched at a general science-literate reader, has the potential to act as a gateway to introduce the reader to more specialised topics. It is extremely well researched with excellent supporting references. I would certainly find it a useful text for entry-level researchers at our training schools.
- Andrew Taylor, Science & Technology Facilities Council, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

"Where would the world be without sand? Pure and impure, heated and x-rayed, in tiny crystals and huge quantities, sand is not only underfoot, but--as McWhan shows in drawing on four decades of scientific research--the most important substance in modern science and life. We rely on it in everything from our watches, cigarette lighters, submarine detectors, and filters to the computer chips that are literally the basis of the electronics revolution. Like books such as 'Coal, Cod and Salt', this book is an entertaining read in the genre of microhistory."
- Robert P. Crease, chairman of the philosophy department at Stony Brook University, author of "World in the Balance: the Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement".


1: Submarines, Clocks and Sensors
2: The Architecture of Sand
3: How Pure is Pure?
4: Impurities are Key
5: The Sun Shines Bright
6: How Small is Small?
7: Through the Looking Glass
8: Sand is Everywhere

Write a review

There are currently no reviews for this book. Be the first to review this book!


Denis McWhan worked at many prestigious institutions over his forty-year career including the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Bell Telephone Laboratories Inc., Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Grenoble, France and the U.S. Department of Energy, Brookhaven National Laboratory. He has published around 200 technical papers and has been awarded Fellow of the American Physical Society (1972), Bell Laboratories Distinguished Technical Service Award (1982), Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1990) and the Arthur Compton Award of the Advanced Photon Source (2003).

Bestsellers in this subject


NHBS Price: £7.99 $11/€9 approx

Nothing: A Very Short Introduction

NHBS Price: £7.99 $11/€9 approx

A Century of Ideas

NHBS Price: £119.99 $158/€136 approx

The Optics of Life

NHBS Price: £40.99 $54/€47 approx

The Quantum Story

NHBS Price: £10.99 $14/€12 approx

VAT: GB 407 4846 44
NHBS Ltd is registered in England and Wales: 1875194