Chapter 2

Near Twins and Black Sheep: The Genealogy of Elements


By: Kendra Perry

In the book "The Disappearing Spoon", chapter two talks about the connections and various differences between the three following elements, Carbon, Silicon, and Germanium. Carbon is a non metal that forms on the backbones of Amino acids. Amino acids tend to stick together because of Carbons particular place on the periodic table. Carbon has a need to fill its outer energy level with 8 electrons. This chemical rule of thumb is called the “Octet Rule”. Carbon can not steal electrons from other atoms , which means the bond it shares tend to be very steady and stable. Proteins arise and these connectable carbons and nitrogens are strung along ,like letters in a ridiculously long word (pg35,chp 2).

Just like a family tree, elements have more in common with the elements below it than the elements beside of it. Which brings us to the next element, Silicon. Silicon is cousin to carbon and silicon sits one space below carbon. Silicon has an atomic number of 14 and Carbon has an atomic number of 6, which makes the two elements have a gap of exactly 8 between their atomic numbers. Both Silicon and Carbon are looking for 4 more electrons to fill their outer energy levels. Silicon's ability to mimic Carbon has made it the dream to create an alternative to carbon based life form (pg 36,Chp 2). Moving one space down from Silicon, we find Germanium. Germanium is known as the “ Black Sheep” element. Germanium and Silicon are both responsible for modern electronics, they both played very different roles in the designing process. Germanium is possibly known as the “Black Sheep” element because it was constantly replaced, and does not play quite as a vital role on earth like Silicon and carbon does.


Carbon is a Non Metal. The name "Carbon" comes from the Latin word "carbo" which means coal or charcoal. It is a non metal element, that is dark grey. Carbons atomic number is 6 and the atomic weight is 12.01.The exact discoverer has remained unknown (RSC, 2014). Carbon was found in charcoal, methane, gas, oil and coal as compounds in hydrocarbons. One of the major places it is found is found in the earths atmosphere as carbon dioxide (Co2) (Nelson, 2016).

Why is Carbon important?

Carbon is capable of self-bonding to form many chemically important elements. Carbon is crucial for humans, without it human beings could not survive. Carbon moves all through the atmosphere including, living and non living parts of the environment In the nonliving environment, carbon can exist as carbon dioxide. Humans release carbon dioxide it is turned into energy and food for plants. This process is called photosynthesis (RSC, 2014).

What is Silicon?

Silicon is a solid, that has a blue grey metallic color. This elements atomic number is 14 and its atomic weight is 25.09. Silicon is a very useful element, in some cases it is used as a silicone oil. Silicone oil is a lubricant and is used in cosmetics. Silicon was discovered in 1824 by Jons Jacob Berzelius. The name is derived from the Latin word "Silex"which means filint (RSC, 2014). Almost 28% of the earths crust is made up of Silicon. Pure Silicon is very reactive and is rarely found in nature but it is found in most rocks and sand (Pappas, 2014).

What is Silicon used for?

Silicon is used in many different ways, including solar cells and even computer chips. In 2006 researchers announced that they had created a computer chip that mixed silicon components with brain cells. This meant that electrical signals from the brain cells could be sent to electric silicon component of the chip, this would eventually lead to technology that can help neurology disorders (Pappas,2014).


Germanium was discovered in 1866 by Clemens A. Winkler in Germany. The word Germanium come from the Latin name for Germany, "Germania" Germanium is a metalloid and its atomic number is 31. When this element was discovered it was thought to have an atomic weight of 71, and Clemens was very close. The actual atomic mass is 72.64 (RSC,2014).

Why is Germanium important?

Germanium is a semiconductor and is used very often in many electronics. Germanium oxide has a high index of refraction and this is the reason it is used in lenses for cameras and microscopes. Germanium Ores are very rare but are found in small quantities inside of Argyodite and Germinate (Britannica, 2016).


These 3 elements all have special impacts in history, and the world. Carbon keeps humans and plant life, in a perfect cycle in which keeps us both alive. Removing one of us, the other would not be able to survive. Silicon is currently helping doctors and researchers in the medical and engineering fields with its magnificent components. Even though Germanium is "The Black Sheep" in The Disappearing Spoon", in life Germanium contributes to many electronics including the camera. Not only do these elements contribute to everyday life, but they are also apart of our future.


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