Represented by the atomic number 6 and the symbol C, carbon is an important chemical element classified as tetravalent and nonmetallic. It is one of the longest existing elements known today. The most popular allotropes of carbon are amorphous carbon, diamond and graphite. It is widely used in the petrochemical industry, specifically in producing kerosene as well as gasoline. In addition to these interesting details, it is good to learn other valuable information about this all-important element such as who discovered carbon.
The Discovery of Carbon
Who discovered carbon? Although this element was discovered in prehistory, several individuals contributed to a clearer knowledge about its different properties and characteristics. For instance, French scientist Rene A. F. de Reaumur first showed in 1722 that through the absorption of carbon, it was possible to transform iron into steel. By 1772, the father of modern chemistry Antoine Lavoisier discovered that diamonds were in a way one form of carbon. In the textbook that he published in 1789, he classified it as an element.
People can easily find inorganic carbon in carbon dioxide, dolomites and limestone. Likewise, it is also possible to find this element in methane clathrates, oil, peat and coal. Looking into the Earth’s crust, it is one of the less abundant. In terms of mass, it is the fourth most abundant in the entire universe after oxygen, helium and hydrogen. After oxygen, carbon is the second most abundant in the human body at the rate of 18.5 percent.
Carbon is a highly essential element especially to living systems. It has a number of economic uses including wood and food. Likewise, it is widely used in hydrocarbon forms such as petroleum or crude oil and fossil fuel methane gas. In addition, there are also valuable carbon animal polymers available such as silk, cashmere and wool. Furthermore, it is part of neutron moderators for making nuclear reactors, added to electrodes for producing dry batteries and used as molding material in glass production.
In 1985, the molecule called fullerene was discovered. It was a new allotrope of the element. It comes in nanostructured forms like nanotubes and buckyballs. When mixed with nitrogen and oxygen atoms, synthetic carbon polymers can be transformed into plastics. Moreover, it can also be used to form alloys when combined with iron, such as the case of carbon steel. It also plays major roles in electroforming and electroplating. Extreme caution is necessary when handling carbon because some compounds contain lethal poisons. These include carbon monoxide, cyanide as well as tetrodotoxin.