Carbon (C)

by Morgan Stoltzfus

Basics of carbon

  • Atomic number: 6 Mass number: 12
  • Has 6 protons, electrons, and neutrons.
  • Comes from the Latin word carbo, which means charcoal.
  • It is the sixth most abundant element in the universe.
  • People get most of their carbon from carbon dioxide in the air or mixed in water.
  • It is widely dispersed in nature.

History of Carbon

Carbon has been known since ancient times.

At first scientists did not know what to make of diamonds until they discovered that it could be destroyed by heat. In 1694, sunlight was focused on a diamond using a large magnifying glass and it disappeared. Then, in 1796, Smithson Tennant saw that as it burned it formed carbon dioxide and proved that diamond is just a form of carbon.

Common Compounds:



Carbon is unique because it can form strongly bonded chains that are sealed by hydrogen atoms that are called Hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons such as coal, oil and natural gas are used mostly as fuel, but a small percentage is used for producing polymers, fibres, paints, plastics and more.


Carbon-14 is an important isotope that has been used to date materials such as wood and archaeological speciments.

Other Uses

  • Carbon fibre is a strong and lightweight material that is used for tennis rackets, skis, fishing rods, rockets, and aeroplanes.
  • Charcoal (wood) and coke (coal) are used for metal smelting which is important in iron and steel industries.
  • Graphite is used for pencils and brushes in electric motors.
  • Activated charcoal is used for filtration and purification.
  • Industrials diamonds are used for cutting rocks and drilling.

Interesting Facts

  • Carbon is essential to life.
  • About 30% of industrial diamonds in the U.S. are made synthetically.
  • An abundance of carbon is found in the sun, stars, comets and atmospheres of planets.