1 element – about 10 million compounds – present in every known living organism on Earth – well, carbon is definitely one of the most incredible elements on the Periodic Table.
We have definitely delayed a lot in writing about this fascinating element. So, here we are today, making up for the lost time. In this article, we will learn 60 amazing carbon facts that will simply leave you surprised.
But, before we start…
|Element Family||Group 14 (modern IUPAC notation), Group IV or Carbon Group|
|Color||Black if in graphite form and transparent if in diamond form.|
|Melting Point||3550°C or 3823 K (Please note that when carbon is heated, it will simply change phase from solid to gas without melting into liquid. However, when pressure is gradually increased to reach 10 atmosphere graphite (carbon) will melt at the said temperature).|
|Boiling Point||3825°C or 4098 K (Please note that the boiling point that has been mentioned here is when graphite vapor pressure attains 1 atmosphere above subliming graphite).|
|Density at 20°C||2.267 g/cm3|
|Number of Electrons||6|
|Number of Protons||6|
|Number of Neutrons (As found in most abundant isotope)||6|
|Element Structure||For diamond it has tetrahedral structure | For Graphite, it has hexagonal layers.|
|Atomic Radius||70 pm|
|Hardness||Graphite (0.5 mohs) | Diamond (10.0 mohs).|
Carbon Facts: Isotopes of Carbon
|Isotope Name||Type and Abundance||Half-Life|
|8C||Radioactive||1.981 * 10-21 s|
|12C||Stable and 98.93% abundance||Stable so no half-life|
|13C||Stable and 1.07% abundance||Stable so no half-life|
|23C||Radioactive||No data available|
Okay, now that we have the basic information in hand, it is time we start with our facts list. Ready?
Carbon Facts: 1-5
1. Carbon was already discovered during the ancient times in various forms such as soot, graphite, diamond etc. However, the ancients were not really aware of the fact that they were just different forms of the same element.
2. ‘Carbon’ – the name – was given to this element by a French scientist who was known as Antoine Lavoisier. He did not only name the element but was also responsible for carrying out various experiments with the element to find out more about its nature.
3. One of the most interesting experiments that Antoine performed was that of burning a diamond in 1772! Yes, he actually didn’t have enough funds to buy a diamond. So, he talked with other scientists who agreed to contribute some money to buy a diamond.
4. Once the diamond was purchased, Antoine and all other scientists took it and placed the diamond inside a glass jar and covered it. They then took a large magnifying glass and used it to focus Sun rays on the diamond only to see it burn out and disappear.
5. However, when the diamond was burned out, Lavoisier didn’t really open up the jar. Instead he took the closed jar and measured its weight only to find that the weight of the jar was exactly the same as it was when the diamond was placed in the jar and the lid was closed.
Carbon Facts: 6-10
6. What really happened inside the closed jar was that the concentrated beam of Sun rays managed to burn the diamond (or pure carbon). The carbon combined with the oxygen that was already present in the jar to form carbon dioxide.
7. The aforementioned diamond experiment led Antoine Lavoisier to conclude that charcoal and diamond were essentially the same elements.
8. In 1779 came another scientist called Carl Scheele. He was from Sweden. Carl took graphite and burned it. He found that even when graphite burns it forms carbon dioxide. This led Scheele to conclude that even graphite was just another form of carbon.
9. Then came the English scientist known as Smithson Tennant. In 1796 Tennant proved that diamond was not a compound of carbon but was actually pure carbon and that diamond burned to form only and only carbon dioxide and nothing else.
10. Scheele even went further and proved that an equal amount of carbon dioxide was formed when equal amounts of charcoal and diamonds were burned.
Carbon Facts: 11-15
11. Back in 1779, Swedish scientist Carl Scheele only concluded that graphite was a form of carbon. He couldn’t give any hard evidence. This evidence was given by Benjamin Brodie in 1855. He was an English chemist who used carbon to produce pure graphite. This was a conclusive proof that graphite was indeed another form of carbon.
12. By the mid-19th century it was already known that graphite and diamond were just different forms of carbon and attempts were made to convert graphite into carbon. All those attempts were futile until in 1955, Francis Bundy and his coworkers achieved it.
13. They managed to demonstrate that under high pressure and high temperature, it is possible to convert graphite into diamond.
14. Another pure form of carbon known as fullerene was discovered in 1985 by three people – Richard Smalley, Harry Kroto and Robert Curl. In this form, the carbon balls are arranged in the shape of a soccer ball.
Buckminsterfullerene is the most popular form of fullerene consisting of 60 carbon atoms arranged in the aforementioned shape. Buckminsterfullerene is also known as C60. There are many fullerenes starting from C20 and reaching all the way up to C540.
15. Graphene – an allotrope of carbon was discovered recently and its discovery was announced in 2004. Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov were the two people who discovered graphene by using an adhesive tape for detaching a single atoms’ layer from graphite. The thickness of graphene is just one atom.
Carbon Facts: 16-20
16. It readily bonds with multiple small atoms including carbon atoms and forms stable bonds. Carbon bonds with metals at high temperatures and forms metallic carbides.
17. Carbon is as important as water for the survival of all organisms. Food and wood are one of the major areas where carbon is used.
18. Carbon is also used in the form of fossil fuel especially crude oil and methane gas. Carbon polymers make plastics.
19. Carbon is mixed with iron and alloys are created like carbon steel. Lead is mixed with graphite to be used as lead in pencils. This ‘lead’ is also used as a pigment, lubricant, electrodes, nuclear moderators, brushes, in electroforming and electroplating, in glass manufacture, etc.
20. Charcoal is used in barbeque grilling, for artwork, iron smelting, etc. Diamond is one of the most famous gems used all over the world. Diamonds are used as ornaments and as cutting and polishing tools.
Carbon Facts: 21-25
21. Carbon fiber is a plastic which is extremely strong and extremely light.You may find it hard to believe but it is stronger than steel.
22. The black pigment that is used in water colors, oil paint, printing ink, laser printer toner, carbon paper, etc. It is used as filler in plastic compounds and rubber products like tyres.
23. Activated charcoal is used as adsorbent and absorbent as filter material in multiple products like kitchen extraction hoods, gas masks, water purification, etc. It is also used to absorb poisons, toxins, gases from the alimentary canal or digestive system.
24. Carbides of boron, silicon, titanium are used in the form of abrasives in grinding and cutting tools.
25. Heard about organic chemistry? Carbon forms the very base of organic chemistry. Why like that? That’s because, every living organism that we know today has carbon.
Carbon Facts: 26-30
26. Carbon not forms organic compounds, but also forms organometallic compounds and inorganic compounds.
27. Diamond is one of the hardest known substances to mankind. Graphite on the other hand is one of the softest known substances that we know of. Both are carbon.
29. Carbon was not formed during the Big Bang. It is created inside stars (like our Sun).
30. Carbon is classified as a nonmetal. However, carbon is known for not only bonding with itself but also with almost every known element. This means that there are too many carbon compounds. Just how many? Almost 10 million!
Carbon Facts: 31-35
31. Wondering whether pure carbon can exist in nature? Yes it does! Diamond and graphite are pure carbon. Pure carbon has been known to mankind since antiquity.
33. There are four different forms in which pure carbon is present on Earth. First – diamond, second – graphite, third – amorphous and fourth – fullerene. The last form was discovered only a few years back.
34. The carbon cycle has a very complicated loop. This ensures that the amount of carbon that is present on Earth remains more or less constant.
35. 18% of human body mass is made of carbon. This means that after oxygen, carbon is the second most abundant element present in our body.
Carbon Facts: 36-40
36. We know that pencil leads are made of graphite. However, we are not really told that graphite is too soft to form the lead and hence, it is mixed with clay to form the lead.
37. Carbon is extremely important for life on Earth. However, it is also responsible for the increased GreenHouse Effect, which is leading to an increase in temperature of Earth’s atmosphere.
38. We have heard of a term called Carbon Footprint. What does that mean? It simply means that amount of greenhouse gas that is emitted by an individual person or a company or a country as a whole.
39. Heard the term hydrocarbon? It is one of the most extensively studied part of organic chemistry. Hydrocarbons actually refer to compounds made of just two elements – carbon and hydrogen.
40. Carbon combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide. This is a greenhouse gas and is also important for the survival of plants. We breathe out carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is formed by combining one atom of carbon and two atoms of oxygen.
Carbon Facts: 41-45
41. While inhaling carbon dioxide can actually suffocate a person and kill him or her, there is something far more dangerous out there than carbon dioxide. There is something called carbon monoxide (CO). It is a gas that is formed when carbon combines with oxygen, but oxygen content is very low.
42. Carbon monoxide is a lethal gas. It is colorless and completely odorless. Once inhaled, it starts replacing oxygen in blood. When that happens, vital organs like the brain, heart and nervous tissues will get less oxygen and health effects will show. When greater amounts of CO is inhaled, it kills humans and even animals.
43. Diamond, which is one of the hardest substances that mankind knows of, is capable of scratching every other known material. It is an extremely good conductor of heat and even sound.
44. Graphene, which is an allotrope of carbon, is known to be the thinnest and strongest material ever found. Graphene has atomic crystals of 2 dimensions.
45. Just how thin is Graphene? Take a pencil and check the lead. The graphite and clay mixed together forms a diameter as small as 0.7mm. Now, stack 2 million layers of Graphene and the thickness you get is 0.7 mm. That’s how thin Graphene is.
Carbon Facts: 46-50
46. Carbon makes up 20% of the weight of all living organisms.
47. The numbers of compounds that do not have carbon are way fewer than the numbers of compounds containing carbon.
48. The tires of our vehicles are black because they contain 30% carbon black. It is this carbon black, which when added to the rubber, gives the characteristic black color to the tires.
49. The addition of carbon black to tires serves two purposes – strengthening the tries and protecting them from UV rays of the Sun.
50. All the carbon atoms present in the human body were actually a part of the carbon dioxide fraction of our Earth’s atmosphere.
Carbon Facts: 51-55
51. We know that inside stars, helium is burned using fusion reactions. One of the byproducts of those reactions is carbon, which is produced in the form of ‘ash’.
52. ‘Carbo’ – a Latin word is from where the name ‘carbon’ has been derived. Carbo actually means coal.
53. Earth’s crust and outer mantle (together known as the lithosphere) contains 0.032% carbon.
54. As for geologist David Smith from La Salle University, the weight of the lithosphere is 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (3 x 1023) pounds and hence, the approximate weight of carbon found in lithosphere is 10,560,000,000,000,000,000,000 (1.056 x 1022) pounds.
55. Heard about Ötzi – the Ice Mummy? If not, you can read about it here. A study was conducted on this 5,300-year-old corpse in 2009. The findings of the study were published in the Journal of Archeological Science. It was found that the skin of the mummy had tattoos that were inked from carbon.
Carbon Facts: 56-60
56. Upon studying Ötzi – the Ice Mummy, it was found that small incisions were made on the person’s skin and charcoal was rubbed on it. Scientists say that it was perhaps a part of an acupuncture treatment.
57. It is hypothesized by many scientists that though carbon is produced inside the stars, it was not really an element that was produced during the Big Bang.
58. Of all elements known so far, carbon has the highest sublimation/melting point. Diamond melts at approximately 3,550°C whereas the sublimation point of carbon is at a whopping 3,800°C.
59. The largest gem-quality diamond that was ever found is known as the Cullinan diamond. It was found in 1905. The uncut diamond was a whopping 3,106.75 carats and the largest gem that was cut out of it was 530.2 carats. This gem is known as the Great Star of Africa and is today one of the Crown Jewels of the UK.
60. Living organisms are known for stopping carbon-14 (14C) intake. It is an isotope of carbon. Because of this reason, scientists can use the half-life of carbon-14 as a kind of a clock to find out how much time has elapsed since the organism died. This method only works on objects that were once alive and then died. For example, wood. The method is known as carbon dating.