On Carbon

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Carbon – from Latin: carbo “coal”

Carbon – symbol C, atomic number 6 on the Periodic Table (group 14) because each carbon atom contains 6 protons

Carbon – each atom with 6 protons, but varying number of neutrons to form different isotopes, such as carbon-12 being almost 99% of the Earth’s carbon, and carbon-14, another naturally occurring form whose presence is used to determine ages (carbon dating)

Carbon – the 4th most abundant element in the universe by mass (after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen), but only the 15th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust

Carbon – whose density is slightly twice more than water, so it sinks

Carbon – which is 40 times more abundant in Earth’s water that in its atmosphere

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Carbon – whose different physical forms are best known as charcoal, graphite, and diamond … each with different properties (from transparent to opaque, from hard to soft, from conductor to a resistor), thus different uses

Carbon as graphite, used in pencils (when combined with clay), in nuclear reactors to moderate the reaction in the reactor … plus is used in electric motors, dry batteries, electroplating, and manufacturing glass

Carbon as diamonds – a girl’s best friend – thus a story in itself

Carbon as the black pigment in printing ink, artist’s oil paint and watercolors, carbon paper, automotive finishes, India ink and laser printer toner – thus was also one of the first pigments for tattoos

Carbon, in the form of activated charcoal, – used as an absorbent and absorbent in filter material in gas masks, water purification, kitchen hoods, and in medicine to absorb odors, impurities, toxins, poisons, or gases

Carbon – with 4 available outer electrons to make covalent (sharing) chemical bonds with other atoms

Carbon – whose atom’s electron-sharing capability allows it for form around ten million different chemical compounds

Carbon – as a member of the vital carbon cycle moves from organism to organism and from life to nonlife

Carbon – whose cycle involves all life forms, thus is important in processes as cell respiration, photosynthesis, biosynthesis (life processes making new molecules), decay (decomposition), and combustion – plus is passed from one organism to another by eating

Carbon – which combines with oxygen and hydrogen to make carbohydrates (including sugars), proteins, fats, and alcohol – then add nitrogen (and sometimes sulfur) to make DNA, RNA, antibiotics, amino acids, and more

Carbon – the foundation of cellulose, an important carbohydrate for plants – thus an important component in cotton, hemp, and numerous fabrics (natural and synthetic) .. plus animal products as wool,, cashmere, silk, and leather

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Carbon – the foundation for organic chemistry, thus the chemical basis of all known life

Carbon – the substance forming the primary ingredient in coal

Carbon – as danger when inhaling coal dust or soot in large quantities (as in Black Lung Disease)

Carbon – which unites with hydrogens to make hydrocarbons as plastics, refrigerants, solvents lubricants, paraffin, and fossil fuels such as petroleum, methane, butane, propane, octane, kerosene, natural gas (a mixture), and others.

Carbon – whose combination with silicon, tungsten, boron, or titanium, form carbides – which are among the hardest known materials, and are used as abrasives in cutting and grinding tools.

Carbon – used as a filler in rubber products such as tires and in plastics

Carbon – with one of the highest melting points plays a role in the high temperatures of manufacturing steel

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Carbon – Its abundance in the Sun, stars, comets, asteroids, and other atmospheres stimulates our wonder if life exists elsewhere

Carbon – formed within the core of stars by fusing atoms of helium and hydrogen

Carbon – scattered in the universe as space dust from supernova explosions


Note: The reader may not remember this, but 3-5 years ago Jim Wheeler suggested I do a post about carbon. I immediately knew Jim’s idea was a great one, and started drafting. For a variety of reasons, the draft sat for a long time, but it remained in my eyesight. Not long ago I decided to make the post a reality. Jim, thanks for the suggestion – and this post is for you.

36 thoughts on “On Carbon

  1. Lots of great information here, Frank. Very impressive. I guess I’m one of the exceptions about the “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” thing. I’ve never been that into gems. I prefer unique jewelry made by local artisans than jewelry with diamonds. Didn’t my husband luck out on that count? 😄

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Frank -what a great gathering point you have here, it is quite wonderful to see the wonders of carbon listed like this (except for ‘girl’s best friend’ thing though which I suspect/hope is somewhat dated now). The video was also enjoyable – I always wonder how they synthesise the voices like that – it’s a mystery to me, But it’s clever isn’t it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pauline,
      That video is a personal favorite …. well, so is the entire Symphony of Science series. Amazing what software can do these days. Meanwhile, carbon is such a vast topic, so this post tries to give it some due credit.


  3. An interesting and informative post about one the foundational building blocks of life as we know it. It ties together my understanding of the black slab monoliths found scattered throughout the Solar System in the movie “2001, A Space Odyssey” as made of 100% carbon, and placed there by an alien race using them as jump starters of new life.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I hope I can hold onto even a fraction of this excellent information, Frank. I am woefully ignorant of anything to do with carbon, and this was so interesting to read. It’s funny how some of us (me) can throw around phrases like ‘carbon dating’ and use the term without really understanding it! LOL! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debra,
      Glad you enjoyed the peek at the grand nature of carbon. I know you are aware of much of the stuff in this post, but you may not are linked them to carbon. I can say that this was a fun post to put together!


  5. Other than coal, graphite and diamond, another molecular form of this versatile element probably deserves a mention, i.e., fullerene. It was named after noted architect Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome. Forms of fullerene include buckyballs and buckytubes, subjects of much research.. Fullerene’s have been found in nature, including in space, and may, it is speculated, have “. . . provided seeds for life on earth.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Amazing post, Frank! This is so informative, and I love all of the info. I was hoping to see something about my carbon footprint, and why it might be good or bad for earth and possibly the universe.
    I did read everything, and then a second scan/red, but I am very tired.
    My great uncle Nick died of black lung disease. He worked in coal mines where the men had to crawl, so my grandmother said.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Resa,
      Now why did I not include “carbon footprint” in this list. Maybe I talked myself out of it because of mentioning fossil fuels … then again, I really don’t know.

      Coal mine work (back in the day) had to be a tough way to make a living. Thanks for sharing.


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