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Discovery of Carbon

Carbon, the sixth most abundant chemical element in the universe and is represented by its chemical symbol C and an atomic designation 6. Carbon is a free element. It develops into allotropes from various carbon-carbon bonds including graphite and diamond.

Discovery of Carbon

In 1789 A.L. Lavoisier named the element carbon. In 1594, D.L.G. Harsten and A.G. Werner named the substance graphite that was being used in pencils at the time.

The main source of the mineral carbon is coal, extracted 95-percent from anthracite. Carbon exhibits high strength-to-weight ratio characteristics, branched out into different compounds that can be used in advanced structural composite materials. Aside from carbon bonding by itself, it creates a chain with a series of other elements, thus forming nearly ten million other compounds.

Carbon comes from the Latin language carbo, which literally means coal or the word both signifies element and coal. Carbon is a pre-historic discovery, made possible by burning organic material in casks with insufficient supply of oxygen (charcoal making).

This element is endemic in the solar system, found in the sun, the stars, comets and present in the atmosphere of most known planets. Traces of carbon in microscopic forms can also be found in some meteorites.

How important is the element carbon?

Carbon is present in organic life and is the basis for organic chemistry. Carbon, when bonded with oxygen produces the compound carbon dioxide, the main element needed by plants to sustain life. The hydrocarbon is a combination of carbon and hydrogen, a fusion of different flammable compounds that are vital to various industries because it serves as fossil fuel.

Carbon is also found in other living plant components like carotenoids and terpenes. When carbon is mixed with oxygen and hydrogen, it develops into groups of vital biological compounds like sugar, cellulose, lignan, chitin, alcohol, fats and aromatic esters.

When nitrogen is added to carbon it transforms into alkaloids and adding in sulfur, it becomes a potent antibiotic, amino acid and protein. Grouping the three elements with phosphorous transforms into DNA and RNA, the chemical blueprint of life. In industrial applications, carbon contains polymer and often combined with oxygen and nitrogen atoms at regular intervals, which serves as the foundation for basically all known industrial commercial plastic.

Different forms of carbon appear such as the hardest naturally-occurring substance, the diamond and the extremely malleable substance known as graphite. Under normal temperature and pressure, carbon resists all strong oxidizers (fluorine and nitric acid included), it does not however react to sulfuric acid, chlorine or alkali. Of course, at higher temperatures it reacts together with oxygen, particularly during fires.

What are the other applications of carbon?

The major economic uses for carbon come in the form of hydrocarbons such as fossil fuels, methane gas and crude oil (petroleum). Crude oil is used in petrochemical industries to produce gasoline and kerosene. Likewise, it is also the raw material for synthetic substances in plastics.

Discovered in February 27, 1940, Carbon-14 is used in radiocarbon dating. Carbon as industrial diamonds are for cutting, drilling and polishing. Standard diamonds are for decorative use and other applications requiring hardness. Carbon as graphite is mixed with clay to form the lead in pencils. Coke, a by-product of carbon is added with iron to produce steel. Carbon is also used as a neutron moderator in nuclear reactors.

Carbon fiber is used for high-temperature gas filtration. Carbon black is the additive for rubber products. Powdered and caked graphite is used for charcoal grilling and artwork. Activated carbon serves medicinal purposes. Carbon compounds indeed form the basis of life on earth.

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