What’s in your Smartphone?


The lines are probably already forming for
the new iphone six. After months and months of rumors, we finally know what it will look
like, and what kind of horsepower it’s packing. But how much do you really know about that
piece of technology in your pocket? For instance, a typical smartphone contains
about 300 milligrams of silver and 30 milligrams of gold. The gold and silver used to manufacture
phones this year alone are worth more than 2.5 billion dollars. Our friends over at Compound
Interest pulled out the periodic table and identified dozens
of other elements that are also packed into a typical smartphone. You can’t do anything
on your phone without a battery. And that power source is most likely
a lithium-ion battery. Those batteries use lithium-cobalt oxide for the cathode or positive
side, and carbon or graphite for the negative side, called an anode. The anode produces
electrons, and the cathode absorbs them to produce the juice that powers your phone.
Some phone batteries use manganese in place of cobalt, and almost all phone batteries,
and often the entire phone, are encased in aluminum. It may just look like a piece of glass, but that smartphone screen actually contains some
of the rarest elements on earth. Very small quantities of things you’ve probably
never heard of like praesodymium, terbium, yttrium and gadolinium help produce the colors
on a smartphone’s screen. The screen itself, new for the iPhone 6, is
made of sapphire. It is the same chemical compound, aluminum oxide, in those sparkly
blue earrings and necklaces. Minor impurities in sapphire gems make them blue, but the sapphire
used in gadgets is lab-created, making it cheaper, just as tough, very pure and crystal
clear, Sapphire is harder than quartz, the core mineral
in most glass. The only thing harder than sapphire is diamond. Sapphire has been in
everything from electronics to led lighting to watches and lenses for decades, and started
appearing in high-end smartphones. If you’ve got an iPhone 5s, you’ve already got sapphire
in your pocket – it’s in the touch id fingerprint-sensing button.
Finally, a mixture of indium, tin and oxygen puts the touch in touch screen. They’re
used in a transparent film that conducts electricity so the touch screen can function.
Smash your phone open and you’ll see another hidden chemistry world. Go on, do it. We’ll
wait. Copper is used for wiring in the phone as
well as the tiny micro-electric components. Engineers also use a metal called tantalum
to make tiny capacitors. Capacitors store and regulate electricity, and can dump their
electrical charge in a fraction of a second, unlike a battery.
Of course, silicon is used to make the microchips in the phone, the brains of the whole operation.
Silicon is the most abundant element on earth other than oxygen. In the chip, it’s combined
with oxygen, antimony, arsenic, phosphorus and gallium to produce a highly-conductive,
powerful chip, which you can then use (sigh) to play Kim Kardashian Hollywood.
So there you have it. The elements that make up that thing you can’t put down. Hey while
you’ve got the phone in your hand, why not subscribe to reactions?
If you’ve got a chemistry question, leave it in the comments and check out our video
on how smartphones can actually keep you awake. So go to bed! Unless you’re watching more
of our videos. Then stay up. Thanks again to compound interest, we’ll
see you next time.

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