Learning about Carbon

The first and most basic fact of carbon is that without it there would be no life. It has been around ever since life has been since it is necessary that every living thing contain carbon. In its three forms it appears as diamonds, graphite and black carbon or coal. What make them different are their different atom arrangements. In other words, their structure.  

As for diamonds, there is no chemical formula, it is pure carbon, or Diamonds equal C. Graphite’s most renowned use is in pencils. Black carbon is soot. It is the complete combustion of burned plant products. Coal deposits are composed of carbon formed when plant materials have been subjected to millions of years of pressure and heat and underground compression. Coal is defined as a rock that burns.

When graphite is burned with little or insufficient oxygen, it is forms a poisonous gas, carbon monoxide. When breathed in, carbon monoxide forms in the blood streams and destroys the oxygen carrying property of hemoglobin. Death results. Thus carbon in its biological sense gives life, serves life and takes life.

Graphite deposits are found in all countries but are most numerous in North Korea, Germany and in Austria. Graphite is the basis for our lead pencils, although now most of the pencils are artificially manufactured from coal. Graphite is also used in some paints and is used for many other industrial purposes.  

Age determination is another recent advancement made possible with carbon. The process is called radiocarbon dating. This is possible because carbon is the basis of all matter. A rock for instance that is ancient in its formation can be accurately placed in the period in which it was formed by adding up its half-life properties and counting backward. This allows for ancient age determinations; but finding the age of artifacts and fossils of a late vintage is easier.

Carbon, in one sense, is the law, the judge and the jury. The same principle that allows for carbon dating allows for carbon matching. It is matches up hair samples, blood samples, and nail clippings and other matter gathered from crime scenes.  It accurately pinpoint murderers, rapist and such. It has saved falsely accused victims in death rows from execution by showing they are innocent of crime. All this is possible because of carbon.

Bored with plain old water (H2) or chemically hydrogen plus oxygen, we drink carbonated beverages. We like the fizz and the extra kick from having carbon forced into plain water or into fruit or artificially flavored drinks. Examples are Orange crush, Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola etc. While it is tasty and interesting and at times relieve upset stomachs, plain water or juices without carbon are healthier.

Carbon forms more compounds than all other elements combined; it forms millions and millions, in fact.  The simplest is formed when carbon and hydrogen are mixed. Carbon dioxide is formed when wood is burned for heat. This is the carbon compound culprit that is causing the green house gas that is melting ice caps and unbalancing the environment.

It is no. 6 on the elements chart. Why is it six and not first, if it is of such importance? Hydrogen and Helium happen to be the purer form of life giving properties although that fact was not discovered until the 1800s. Beryllium, Lithium and Boron also precede it on the charts. Carbon is likely to be around as long as we are and chemists are finding new ways to combine and saturate and to experiment in learning how better to use it.