How Carbon Came

Carbon is one of the most abundant elements found here on planet Earth. Many don’t really know how it came to be. Some just discovered it through decayed dead bodies of humans and extinct animals like dinosaurs. These were only mere discoveries; no one knows where it actually came from.

From depths of the earth, carbon was discovered far back in prehistory and the early human civilizations. Our ancestors discovered it in the form of soot and charcoal. Others discovered it in other places far from earth like the planets, stars, comets, moons etc. Yet, one man discovered its real nature. He was Antoine Lavoisier. This very man named carbon and he carried out early experiments to reveal its nature. In 1694, he pooled resources with his “sidekick” chemists to buy a diamond, which they placed in a closed glass jar. They focused the sun’s rays on the diamond with a magnifying glass and the diamond burnt and disappeared. Lavoisier noted that the overall weight of the jar was unchanged. Finally, he concluded the diamond was composed of the same element as charcoal was – carbon. When it burnt, the diamond had combined with oxygen to form carbon dioxide.

Carbon can exist in several allotropes, including graphite, diamond, amorphous carbon, fullerines and nanotubes. Carbon has the highest melting/sublimation point of all the elements and, in the form of diamond, has the highest thermal conductivity of any element. This is the origin of the slang term “ice” – diamond, at room temperature, carries heat away from your warmer skin faster than any other material and so feels cold to touch. Carbon (coal) is used as a fuel. Graphite is used as a lubricant, for pencil tips, high temperature crucibles, dry cells and electrodes. Diamonds are used in jewelry and – because they are so hard – in industry for cutting, drilling, grinding, and polishing. Carbon black is used as the black pigment in printing ink.

Carbon can form alloys with iron, of which the most common is carbon steel. The 14C radioactive isotope is used in archaeological dating. Carbon compounds are important in many areas of the chemical industry. Carbon forms a vast number of compounds with hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements. Its ability to form long-chained, complex compounds has resulted in carbon acting as the basis of all life on Earth. The outstanding physical properties – for example thermal conductivity and strength – of new carbon allotropes, such as nanotubes, show enormous potential for future development. One trivia about carbon is its isotope. The C-60 molecule, nicknamed Buckyballs, is the roundest molecule formed in nature.

To end this biography of carbon, I found this picture how carbon came to life. I think this can summarize how carbon was discovered and how it became useful in life.


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