The silicon from which most electronics are built is a useful, durable material up to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit (but don’t go sticking your iPhone in the oven). Three hundred fifty isn’t bad, says engineer Alton Horsfall of Newcastle University in the U.K., but not nearly good enough for his mission: monitoring volcanoes. Horsfall and colleague Nick Wright say their research into a different material, silicon carbide (SiC), shows that it could work at temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees F, and might be just what they need to keep watch on inhospitable places like the blazing-hot mouth of a volcano.
The silicon and carbon in silicon carbide bond very strongly, permitting them to survive extreme temperatures. But the material’s pricey and hard to work with for the same reason. So while organizations like NASA have done silicon carbide research, the material hasn’t spread to a multitude of applications.