Ever since it was discovered, approximately 3760 BC, the quality of mankind’s life has depended on the properties of carbon. From birth to death, carbon has proved indispensable to our lives. It is in the air we breathe, the jewellery we wear, like the diamonds we love so much, and one of our writing implements – the lead pencil – has it. Yet, even though it is ubiquitous and we would have great difficulty existing without it, not too much is known about it.
Here are 10 interesting facts about Carbon:
1. The name ‘Carbon’ has its roots in the Latin phrase ‘carbo carbonis’, meaning carbon, coal or charcoal.
2. With its ancient history, Carbon was first used by the Egyptians and Sumerians for reducing copper, zinc and tin ores in the manufacture of bronze.
3. Carbon is an element on the periodic table with the symbol C. It has an Atomic Number of 6 because it consists of six subatomic protons and six neutrons with a mass of 12.01. Its melting point is -3550 °C (the highest of all elements).
4. Carbon is very important because it is the fourth most common element in the universe after hydrogen, oxygen. It is also the second most prolific element in the human body, and is present in all known life forms. In fact, one could say that Carbon is the basis of all life on earth.
5. The Carbon element seems to have a dual composition. It can take the form of one of the hardest substances (diamond) or one of the softest (graphite) and is usually found in mines.
6. The most common uses for Carbon are in fossil fuels, like methane gas, and crude oil (petroleum), gasoline and kerosene. It is also used with smoke detectors. The burning of the fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse effect gas which is threatening global warming.
7. The outstanding physical properties – for example thermal conductivity and strength – of new carbon allotropes, such as nanotubes, show great potential for future development. Carbon nanotubes have a tested tensile strength eight times greater than steel. Compared to its tiny size, this strength makes carbon nanotubes the future for building items like bridges, computer circuits and even artificial muscles .
8. Pure carbon is considered non-toxic but when fine particles, such as soot, are inhaled, they can damage lung tissue. About 20 % of the earth’s population breathes severely contaminated air, especially with carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, resulting from industrial processes. This increases the number of respiratory conditions, especially amongst children and elders. research has revealed that 13 % of British children experience asthma caused by air contamination.
9. Scientists also use Carbon to assess the age of an item. Carbon-14 dating is a method of determining the age of archeological artifacts, such as bone, cloth, wood and plant fibres, of up to about 50,000 years old.
10. The carbon market seems a rich investment source because an average of $6 billion is invested in the market for carbon offsets each year.