The universe is bombarded with chemical elements and the sixth
most abundant is carbon. This element is present in many aspects
of life, whether in the food that we take, water that we drink,
or materials for our houses. In addition, the element carbon is
in vegetation, in rocks, you name it.
The element carbon comes in many forms. Some benefit mankind
while others pose as threat to our existence. Since carbon is
a universal element, this serves as basis for organic chemistry.
Carbon has an atomic number of 6 and an atomic weight of 12.0107.
The melting point of carbon is 6422°F. The boiling point of
carbon is 6917°F.
Chemistry in plants and animals is carbon-based, as derived by
the process from which they thrive. In photosynthesis, carbon dioxide
is fed into the plant to digest food in the cavities of the leaves
that in turn expel oxygen and moisture into the atmosphere. Animals
inhale oxygen to speed-up the process of metabolism and exhale carbon
dioxide, which supports plant life.
A symbiotic relationship exists between plants and animals thereby
one is dependent on the other for their existence. Since the beginning
of time, this delicate balance has been adequately satisfied. Today,
this balance has been severely hampered to crisis proportions.
Because of man's diverse need for energy, oil wells were set up
and fossil fuel deposits were extracted from the deep chasms of
the earth. Fuel is extensively used to feed the voracious energy
requirement pertinent to the industrial revolution in order to mass
produce cars, appliances, food items and shelter materials, all
in the intent of providing modern conveniences to mankind.
These productive activities however resulted in excessive environmental
pollution, caused by carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere
which increased the build up of greenhouse gasses developing the
phenomenon called global warming. These same industries also produce
chemical hazards such as the ingestion of carbon monoxide, a lethal
gas produced from partially burned hydrocarbons, and airborne carbon
black particles that affects human health.
Natural carbon and its uses
At this stage of human evolution, the element carbon has more than
ever made our lives livable as shown by the many convenience products
developed. Although most by-products come from fossil fuels, they
undergo scientific processing to suit commercial processes. There
are three known natural carbon allotropes. One is amorphous, the
other is graphite and the dearest of them all is the diamond.
Amorphous carbon is formed by partially burning hydrocarbons. The
smoke generated is collected and particles are separated to form
the nucleus called carbon black. This is used as an additive for
ink, paint and rubber based products. This can also be pressed to
serve as core for most dry-cell batteries.
Graphite carbon is a soft material used primarily as a lubricant.
This type of carbon is developed from coke, a black tar residue
derived from the refinements made on crude oil, which is extensively
used in steel production and to some degree as the black central
core of pencils, commonly known as lead.
The third natural form of carbon is diamond, which is one of the
hardest substances discovered by man. Most natural diamonds are
traded commercially as jewelry to adorn well-to do patrons. Artificially
manufactured diamonds have been used for industrial applications
as a major component of diamond tipped saw blades, drill bits and
What is carbon-14?
Carbon-14 is one of the most important discoveries of the 20th
century. It is an important component in the process called radiocarbon
dating. Carbon-14 is a radioactive isotope with a half-life of 5,730
years and is primarily used to determine the accurate age of ancient
living things and organisms.
Ever wondered how scientists were able to gauge accurately the
fossils of dinosaurs living several million years ago or how they
concluded that the "Shroud of Turin" was faked? This is
possible with technologies that employ the isotope carbon-14.