The next time you grab your cellphone, take a second to marvel at its incredible construction. While it may look like any other high-tech gadget, a cellphone is made up of an array of materials, with glass, plastic and metal as the most common components.
It's easy to see that glass is a major component of a cellphone, especially of the screen. But this isn't any old glass. This glass is made from aluminium oxide and silicon dioxide with an ultra-thin layer of indium tin oxide added so you can touch the screen without damaging it.
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Sapphire, a material manufactured from aluminum oxide, may take the place of glass in some smartphones due to it being three times harder than Gorilla Glass, says MIT Technology Review While the expensive material is not yet commonly used in cellphones, Apple does use sapphire to give added protection to its iPhone 5 camera, according to MIT.
A cellphone is made from a variety of metals, with the most common being aluminum alloys, lightweight materials commonly found in the phone case. Lithium cobalt oxide and carbon graphite are used to make the batteries. Elements like gold, copper and silver are used in the wiring of the phone. Platinum and tungsten are used in the circuitry.
The metals in your cellphone also include rare metals of which 97 percent are mined in China, says writer Dr. Ainissa Ramirez in NOVA Next. Rare metals –– not all that rare but listed that way on the periodic chart to explain how they mix with oxygen –– are used to make the glass in your cellphone harder. Rare metals, such as neodymium-iron-boron alloys, dysprosium and praseodymium, are also used to make the magnets, speakers and motors found in your phone.
The third most common material found is plastic. Plastic is often used in the case in place of metal. The use of plastic in a cell phone makes it more resistant to damage when you drop or scratch it. Plastic is also used since it can stand up to all but the most extreme temperature fluctuations. The material is very flexible, and it does not cause reception problems when you're trying to find a cell signal.
Considering all the materials used in your cellphone, it is a wise choice to keep these devices out of the trash. According to the Minerals Education Coalition, about 140 million cellphones are discarded every year. These phones contain approximately 2,100 metric tons of copper and 3.9 metric tons of gold, among other metals, plastics and glasses that could be kept out of landfills. If you want to keep your discarded phone from the landfill, the Environmental Protection Agency offers a list of recycling centers that recycle cellphones.
- PBS: Where to Find Rare Earth Elements
- EPA: The Life Cycle of a Cell Phone
- AnandTech: A Discussion on Materials Choices in Mobile
- MIT Technology Review: Your Next Smartphone Screen May Be Made of Sapphire
- Compound Interest: Elements of a Smartphone
- Minerals Education Coalition: What's In My Cell Phone?