Highlights of the Realm of Carbon

Highlights of the Realm of Carbon

Carbon is a chemical element with symbol C and atomic number 6. It is nonmetallic and tetravalent—making four electrons available to form covalent chemical bonds. That explains why carbon is able to form so large diversity of organic compounds with other elements. Three isotopes occur naturally, 12C and 13C being stable, while 14C is a radioactive isotope.

Carbon's abundance, its unique diversity of organic compounds, and its unusual ability to form polymers at the temperatures commonly encountered on Earth enables this element to serve as a common element of all known life.

It is the second most abundant element in the human body by the mass about 18,5 % the atoms of carbon can bond together in different ways, termed allotropes of carbon.

The best known are graphite, diamond, and amorphous carbon. The physical properties of carbon vary widely with the allotropic form. Graphite is a good electrical conductor while diamond has a low electrical conductivity. Under normal conditions, diamond, carbon nanotubes, and graphene have the highest thermal conductivities of all known materials.

All carbon allotropes are solids under normal conditions, with graphite being the most thermodynamically stable form. Carbon has often been referred to as the "king of the elements". The allotropes of carbon include graphite, one of the softest known substances, and diamond, the hardest naturally occurring substance. It bonds readily with other small atoms including other carbon atoms and is capable of forming multiple stable covalent bonds with suitable, multivalent atoms. Carbon is known to form almost ten million different compounds, a large majority of all chemical compounds. Carbon also has the highest sublimation point of all elements.

Carbon is one of the few elements known since antiquity. Ancient Egyptians made use of charcoal to smelt ores to create bronze. By 1500 B.C., according to the first documented use of charcoal as written on papyrus, the Egyptians’ use of charcoal had progressed, using the material to absorb unpleasant odors, cure intestinal ailments and even preserve the dead. In 400 B.C., the Ancient Hindus and Phoenicians had started using charcoal to purify water because of its antiseptic properties. By 50 A.D, Hippocrates, one of the most historic figures in the history of medicine started using charcoal for a number of medical purposes, including treating epilepsy, chlorosis and vertigo. In 1776, Lowitz performed the first experiments that proved that carbon could be used to decolor solutions, noting the adsorptive properties of charcoal in liquid phase. That was big discovery that helped to produce white sugar. Activated carbon powder mixed in aquarium water, can treat water naturally and help to keep it crystal clear.

When looking for life on other planets like Earth, some simplifying assumptions are used to reduce the size of the task of the astrobiologist. One is the informed assumption that the vast majority of life forms in our galaxy are based on carbon chemistries, as are all life forms on Earth. Carbon is the fourth most abundant chemical element in the universe by mass after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. Carbon is abundant in the Sun, stars, comets, and in the atmospheres of most planets. Carbon is well known for the unusually wide variety of molecules that can be formed around it. Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe and the energy required to make or break a bond is at just the appropriate level for building molecules, which are not only stable but also reactive. The fact that carbon atoms bond readily to other carbon atoms allows for the building of extremely long and complex molecules. Fundamental astrophysical studies on carbon still poorly understood physical and chemical properties of carbon materials in space. Different isotopes of carbon should be studied.

Carbon 7 is not a stable isotope.  In other words, the electromagnetic repulsion of having a bunch of protons together (in Carbon 7 it's 6 protons, 1 neutron) is stronger than the strong nuclear force, so the nucleus is unstable and would decay.  For reference, carbon 8 has a half life of 2*10^-21 seconds (really fast!).  Carbon 7 would be even faster.  The carbon 7 would rapidly decay to something smaller and eject a bunch of energy and a high-velocity particle.  The particle would bounce around and do damage.  The resulting isotope would not be able to stably bond like carbon would, and the DNA would come apart.

The presence of liquid water is an assumed requirement, as it is a common molecule and provides an excellent environment for the formation of complicated carbon-based molecules that could eventually lead to the emergence of life. More than 20% of the carbon in the universe may be associated with  Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons PAHs, possible starting materials for the formation of life. PAHs are composed of multiple aromatic rings (organic rings in which the electrons are delocalized).


Only two of the natural atoms, carbon, and silicon, are known to serve as the backbones of molecules sufficiently large to carry biological information. As the structural basis for life, one of the carbon's important features is that unlike silicon, it can readily engage in the formation of chemical bonds with many other atoms, thereby allowing for the chemical versatility required to conduct the reactions of biological metabolism and propagation. Scientists have managed to coax living cells into making carbon-silicon bonds, demonstrating for the first time that nature can incorporate silicon - one of the most abundant elements on Earth - into the building blocks of life. They’ve so far never been found in nature, and these new cells could help  humansunderstand more about the possibility of silicon-based life elsewhere in the Universe.

As of 2009, graphene appears to be the strongest material ever tested. The process of separating it from graphite will require some further technological development before it is economical for industrial processes. If successful, graphene could be used in the construction of an Earth to Space Elevator. It could also be used to safely store hydrogen for use in a hydrogen-based engine in cars.

Fullerenes are a synthetic crystalline formation with a graphite-like structure, but in place of hexagons, fullerenes are formed of pentagons (or even heptagons) of carbon atoms. The missing (or additional) atoms wrap the sheets into spheres, ellipses, or cylinders. The properties of fullerenes (split into buckyballs, buckytubes, and nanobuds) have not yet been fully analyzed and represent an intense area of research in nanomaterials.

Under terrestrial conditions, conversion of one element to another is very rare. Therefore, the amount of carbon on Earth is effectively constant. Thus, processes that use carbon must obtain it from somewhere and dispose of it somewhere else.

The paths of carbon in the environment goes trough the carbon cycle. For example, photosynthetic plants draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (or sea water) and build it into biomass, as in the Calvin cycle, a process of carbon fixation. Animals eat some of this biomass, while animals exhale some carbon as carbon dioxide. The carbon cycle is considerably more complicated than this short loop; for example, some carbon dioxide is dissolved in the oceans; if bacteria do not consume it, dead plant or animal matter may become petroleum or coal, which releases carbon when burned.

Carbon can form very long chains of interconnecting carbon–carbon bonds, a property that is called catenation. Carbon-carbon bonds are strong and stable. Through catenation, carbon forms a countless number of compounds. A tally of unique compounds shows that more contain carbon that those that do not. A similar claim can be made for hydrogen because most organic compounds also contain hydrogen. Catenation is the linkage of atoms of the same element into longer chains. Catenation occurs most readily in carbon, which forms covalent bonds with other carbon atoms to form longer chains and structures. This is the reason for the presence of the vast number of organic compounds in nature. Carbon is most well known for its properties of catenation, with organic chemistry essentially being the study of catenated carbon structures (and known as catenae). However, carbon is by no means the only element capable of forming such catenae.

The simplest form of an organic molecule is the hydrocarbon—a large family of organic molecules that are composed of hydrogen atoms bonded to a chain of carbon atoms. Chain length, side chains and functional groups all affect the properties of organic molecules. Carbon occurs in all known organic life and is the basis of organic chemistry.

When united with hydrogen, it forms various hydrocarbons that are important to industry as refrigerants, lubricants, solvents, as chemical feedstock for the manufacture of plastics and petrochemicals, and as fossil fuels.

When combined with oxygen and hydrogen, carbon can form many groups of important biological compounds including sugars, lignans, chitins, alcohols, fats, and aromatic esters, carotenoids and terpenes.

With nitrogen it forms alkaloids, and with the addition of sulfur also it forms antibiotics, amino acids, and rubber products.

With the addition of phosphorus to these other elements, it forms DNA and RNA, the chemical-code carriers of life, and adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the most important energy-transfer molecule in all living cells. Carbon is essential to all known living systems, and without it life as we know it could not exist (see alternative biochemistry).

The major economic use of carbon other than food and wood is in the form of hydrocarbons, most notably the fossil fuel methane gas and crude oil (petroleum). Crude oil is distilled in refineries by the petrochemical industry to produce gasoline, kerosene, and other products. Cellulose is a natural, carbon-containing polymer produced by plants in the form of wood, cotton, linen, and hemp. Cellulose is used primarily for maintaining structure in plants.

Commercially valuable carbon polymers of animal origin include wool, cashmere and silk. Plastics are made from synthetic carbon polymers, often with oxygen and nitrogen atoms included at regular intervals in the main polymer chain. The raw materials for many of these synthetic substances come from crude oil.

The uses of carbon and its compounds are extremely varied. It can form alloys with iron, of which the most common is carbon steel. Graphite is combined with clays to form the 'lead' used in pencils used for writing and drawing. It is also used as a lubricant and a pigment, as a molding material in glass manufacture, in electrodes for dry batteries and in electroplating and electroforming, in brushes for electric motors and as a neutron moderator in nuclear reactors.

Charcoal is used as a drawing material in artwork, barbecue grilling, iron smelting, and in many other applications. Wood, coal, and oil are used as fuel for production of energy and heating. Gem quality diamond is used in jewelry, and industrial diamonds are used in drilling, cutting and polishing tools for machining metals and stone. Plastics are made from fossil hydrocarbons, and carbon fiber, made by pyrolysis of synthetic polyester fibers is used to reinforce plastics to form advanced, lightweight composite materials.

Carbon fiber is made by pyrolysis of extruded and stretched filaments of polyacrylonitrile (PAN) and other organic substances. The crystallographic structure and mechanical properties of the fiber depend on the type of starting material, and on the subsequent processing. Carbon fibers made from PAN have a structure resembling narrow filaments of graphite, but thermal processing may reorder the structure into a continuous rolled sheet. The result is fibers with higher specific tensile strength than steel.

Carbon black is used as the black pigment in printing ink, artist's oil paint and water colors, carbon paper, automotive finishes, India ink and laser printer toner. Carbon black is also used as filler in rubber products such as tires and in plastic compounds. Activated charcoal is used as an absorbent and adsorbent in filter material in applications as diverse as gas masks, water purification, and kitchen extractor hoods, and in medicine to absorb toxins, poisons, or gases from the digestive system.

Carbon is used in chemical reduction at high temperatures. Coke is used to reduce iron ore into iron (smelting). Case hardening of steel is achieved by heating finished steel components in carbon powder. Carbides of silicon, tungsten, boron, and titanium, are among the hardest known materials and are used as abrasives in cutting and grinding tools. Carbon compounds make up most of the materials used in clothing, such as natural and synthetic textiles and leather, and almost all of the interior surfaces in the built environment other than glass, stone, and metal.

Pure carbon has extremely low toxicity to humans and can be handled and even ingested safely in the form of graphite or charcoal. It is resistant to dissolution or chemical attack, even in the acidic contents of the digestive tract.

Consequently, once it enters into the body's tissues it is likely to remain there indefinitely. Carbon black was probably one of the first pigments to be used for tattooing, and Ötzi the Iceman was found to have carbon tattoos that survived during his life and for 5200 years after his death. Inhalation of coal dust or soot (carbon black) in large quantities can be dangerous, irritating lung tissues and cause the congestive lung disease, coal worker's pneumoconiosis. Diamond dust used as an abrasive can harmful if ingested or inhaled. Micro particles of carbon are produced in diesel engine exhaust fumes and may accumulate in the lungs. In these examples, the harm may result from contaminants (e.g., organic chemicals, heavy metals) rather than from the carbon itself.


In addition, owing to their extraordinary thermal conductivity, mechanical, and electrical properties, carbon nanotubes find applications as additives to various structural materials. For instance, nanotubes form a tiny portion of the material(s) in some (primarily carbon fiber) baseball bats, golf clubs, car parts or damascus steel. Nanotubes are members of the fullerene structural family. Their name is derived from their long, hollow structure with the walls formed by one-atom-thick sheets of carbon, called graphene.

These sheets are rolled at specific and discrete ("chiral") angles, and the combination of the rolling angle and radius decides the nanotube properties; for example, whether the individual nanotube shell is a metal or semiconductor. Nanotubes are categorized as single-walled nanotubes (SWNTs) and multiwalled nanotubes (MWNTs). Individual nanotubes naturally align themselves into "ropes" held together by Van der Waals forces, more specifically, pi-stacking.

Applied quantum chemistry, specifically, orbital hybridization best describes chemical bonding in nanotubes. The chemical bonding of nanotubes is composed entirely of sp2 bonds, similar to those of graphite. These bonds, which are stronger than the sp3 bonds found in alkanes and diamond, provide nanotubes with their unique strength.

Since I started to use Carbon stick or graphite rod as anode in electrolysis for production of nano solutions, I had get a lot of joy with experiments observations and it all just confirmed how right it is. Graphite is a simplest and sustainable material to use for nano material production.

We are happy to share our results using Carbon stick method of GaNS production.

Blueprint how to make metal particles with carbon please see here.

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