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Silica is a silicate mineral and has the chemical formula SiO2. It can be found in many places, including sand. It is also found in some gemstones and the cell walls of seaside animals like diatoms.
There are many different types of silicates, based on the amount and arrangement of atoms. These divisions are important, because they affect the properties of these minerals in general. For example, a high silica mineral will have a higher density and a lower melting point than a low silica mineral. It will also have a different shape, harderness and more brittle crystals than a low silica mineral.
The structure of a silicate is usually tetrahedral, in which one silicon atom is surrounded by 4 oxygen atoms. These tetrahedrons often link to each other in long chains or groups, which increases the viscosity of the melt.
This viscosity is what causes the liquid to flow and make it sticky when melted. When it is cooled, these chains become unlinked and the silicate becomes a glass.
Silica has a high melting point, but sodium can break the ordered network of silicate tetrahedrons, reducing the melting temperature to about 1000 degC. This makes it a very useful material, because it can be used as a lubricant or to create glass at a low temperature. It is also a popular ingredient in ceramic glazes. It is the primary raw material for most glass and a significant component of optical fibers.