Silica gel is a granular, vitreous, porous form of silicon dioxide made synthetically from sodium silicate. Silica gel is tough and hard; it is more solid than common household gels like gelatin or agar. It is a naturally occurring mineral that is purified and processed into either granular or beaded form. As a desiccant, it has an average pore size of 2.4 nanometers and has a strong affinity for water molecules.
Silica gel was in existence as early as the 1640s as a scientific curiosity. It was used in World War I for the adsorption of vapors and gases in gas mask canisters. The synthetic route for producing silica gel was patented by chemistry professor Walter A. Patrick at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA in 1919.
In World War II, silica gel was indispensable in the war effort for keeping penicillin dry, protecting military equipment from moisture damage, as a fluid cracking catalyst for the production of high octane gasoline, and as a catalyst support for the manufacture of butadiene from ethanol, feedstock for the synthetic rubber program.