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Atomic Symbol Atomic Number Atomic Weight Melting Point Boiling Point
C 6 12.0107 3550 °C (diamond) 3800°C (sublimation)

Carbon is an element included in the periodic table. Carbon’s atomic number is 6 and its atomic weight or mass is 12.0107. [1] An atomic number represents the number of protons in the atom’s nucleus. The atomic number describes the chemical makeup of carbon and this determines where the element is located in the periodic table. The atomic weight represents the number of protons and neutrons that makeup an atom. Carbon is the sixth most abundant element in the universe and has millions of known compounds or allotropes, which represent the many chemical and physical forms of the element. Carbon is an element that is essential for life and can be found in living things as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. [2] Photosynthetic plants and plankton obtain carbon from carbon dioxide, which is present in the atmosphere and in the ocean. These organisms extract carbon by using solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. During this process the oxygen is sent back into the atmosphere and the hydrogen fuses with carbon dioxide to create the carbon containing carbohydrates used for fuel. Carbohydrates also aid in creating smaller molecules needed to form DNA. [3] A newly discovered allotrope of carbon is called buckyballs and consists of 60-70 carbon atoms in a hexagonal shape. This structure is resilient to extreme conditions and has magnetic and superconductive abilities. [4] The natural solid forms of carbon are amorphous, graphite and diamond.

Forms of Carbon. [

  • The amorphous form of carbon occurs when carbon containing material burns and leaves behind a black soot residue. Amorphous forms of carbon include coal, lampback or carbon black, which is the residue left behind from oil lamps, and charcoal. [5] Carbon black residue is often used to manufacture rubber and ink products.
  • Carbon in the form of graphite is an element mineral and can be found in metamorphic and igneous rocks. Carbon forms into graphite after being affected by extreme heat and pressure deep in the crust of the Earth. It can also be formed at convergent plate boundaries, which is when two tectonic plates push against each other creating a great deal of heat and pressure to alter the rocks.
  • Diamond is also a mineral form of carbon and one of the strongest materials known to man. Both diamond and graphite and known as crystalline structures because their atoms are formed in a organized fashion. However the difference between these two forms of carbon is that the atoms in diamonds are more closely bonded creating a stronger substance. Contrary to popular belief, coal is not the primary source of how diamonds are created. Evidence to support this is that diamonds have been discovered to date older than the first plants, from which coal is derived. Diamonds are created deep in the Earth’s mantle under extreme pressure and heat. These extreme conditions are only present in certain areas of the Earth such as the middle of continental plates plate tectonics. These diamonds reach the Earth’s surface through volcanic activity. This is know as a hotspot in which the volcanic magma originates deep in the mantle and brings pieces of it up to the surface. Since it is not likely that plant based coal is present at those depths, the source of carbon must be from reserves trapped from the Earth’s formation. [6] Diamonds can also form in subduction zones where one tectonic plates slides under or over the one next to it, bringing with it rocks and sediment. Is it possible that coal is present in the creation of these diamonds due to its presence in soil, however oceanic subduction zones is a more likely candidate. This is because carbonate rocks such as limestone, and marble, along with loads of organic material are present in ocean sediments. Another source of natural made diamonds is meteor or asteroid impacts. [7]

Carbon can aid in calculating the age of organic material through a process called radiocarbon dating. This is possible by measuring the amount of the radioactive isotope carbon-14. Scientists are able to measure the amount of carbon-14 in the decayed organic material and determine when the organism died depending on how much the radioactivity has decreased. There is a separate branch of chemistry called organic chemistry devoted to studying carbon compounds such as carbon-14 and major greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide or monoxide, and methane. [8] Fossils fuel forms of carbon such as natural gas, oil, and coal are used as an energy source. Fossil fuels are formed from decayed organic material of plants and animals that inhabited the Earth millions of years ago. [9]

Carbon Monoxide. [

These fossils fuels emit mass amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and are the main source of the United States CO2 emissions. Although carbon dioxide occurs naturally in all Earth’s cycles through the biosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere, human activity has drastically increased its presence. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been increasing since the industrial revolution. Deforestation and loss of biodiversity has also been a factor in raising levels because they act as natural filters. The main uses for fossil fuels in the United States are electricity, transportation and industry. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emissions are the main cause of the current climate change crisis. [10] In order to better understand climate change it is important to recognize the carbon cycle. Carbon cycles through the atmosphere, living things, and the ocean in different forms. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is crucial to life on Earth because it traps heat that would otherwise be sent back out into space. The issue is that the increased amount carbon dioxide is heating the Earth at more extreme levels.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been documenting the changes in the atmosphere and greenhouse gases for 50 years. NOAA aims to increase the predictability of further climate change by advancing their measurement strategies and promoting international management. Climate change is affecting every single ecosystem on Earth and causes changes such as ocean acidification. Continually measuring the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will aid in efforts to decrease humanity’s carbon footprint. [11]

Carbon Cycle. [


The element carbon has been documented since the ancient world. The word carbon is derived from the Latin word carbo meaning charcoal. The most common form of carbon is coal. [12] Ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians and Romans would use carbon residue for creating everyday items. For example the Egyptians used the carbon soot from burning oil lamps as makeup and ink. The Romans used the charcoal form of carbon, which is made from burning wood. [13] The element carbon is found extensively throughout our solar system in the sun, stars and other space objects.


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