For people in the semiconductor world, or those who have been electronic and technology geeks, they have always known of a semiconducting alternative to silicon for transistors and circuitry. That alternative is the element called germanium (Ge).Germanium is a brittle, silvery-white element that has semiconducting properties similar to silicon. For many years, germanium was the semiconducting material of choice for electronics and circuitry, but soon it became more expensive as silicon was discovered and utilized for this similar purpose. As silicon is so much more prevalent and naturally available in the world, it was very cheap to gather and reproduce for conducting purposes, so it replaced germanium once computers became more mass-produced and accessible to the public.Germanium ore is actually very rare naturally, which contributes to its relative expense. Germanium can be obtained, however, from zinc ores, and can be found by processing dust from the flues of zinc smelters. There are also certain coals which burn off and produce germanium as a by-product.Gemanium can be very effective for use in solar panels, as it has similar isotopes as in silicon, so that a current can be created with “free” electrons that break free of the orbits of germanium atoms. While silicon is indeed cheaper, germanium is still used in some specialized ways because it is more effective in conducting electricity and has other properties that make it versatile and useful.Germanium is not known to have any biological uses, though there is research being conducted to see if the element may actually have some healthful properties for humans – it is being researched as a possible cancer fighter. However, it is mostly used in electronics and optics. Germanium is most commonly now being used for wide-angle camera lenses, microscope lenses and some infrared spectrascopes. It is also used in fluorescent lamps, in cores of fiber-optic cables and some LED lighting.When doped with arsenic or gallium, it can not only be used as a conductor for electricity, but it can also be used as a transistor. Germanium is also used in airport scanners, as it can often detect radiation. Germanium is also an effective alloying agent – for example, using 1 percent germanium in silver stops tarnishing.You can find germanium in the Periodic Table of the Elements with atomic number 32, and you can see a comparison between germanium and its semiconducting cousins, including silicon.