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Carbon

Rough, uncut diamonds. Diamonds have a box-like arrangement of atoms, with each each attached to four others. This makes it hard.One of the most important chemical elements is carbon: it is the fourth most common element in the Universe. Carbon is the main element in all living things. It makes up one-fifth of the human body. Unlike most elements, pure carbon can exist in different forms (allotropes). These include both the soft, black, slippery powder graphite, used as “lead” in pencils, and diamond, the hardest substance of all. Carbon is such a common and adaptable element that it even has its own branch of science, known as organic chemistry.


A rough piece of carbon rock in its graphite form, and a "lead" pencil (actually made of graphite). Graphite has its carbon atoms...Read More >>A rough piece of carbon rock in its graphite form, and a "lead" pencil (actually made of graphite). Graphite has its carbon atoms arranged in layers, each atom attached to only three others. This makes it soft.
1 Atoms of carbon (shown as green balls) easily join with oxygen (red), nitrogen (blue) and hydrogen (white). In different...Read More >>1 Atoms of carbon (shown as green balls) easily join with oxygen (red), nitrogen (blue) and hydrogen (white). In different combinations they form substances such as the sugars and starches found in living things. 2 The arrangement of carbon atoms in graphite (A) and diamond (B). 3 Hydrocarbons include methane, made up of one carbon atom linked to four hydrogens (C), and eight carbons in a row forming the gas octane (D). 4 The molecular structure of benzene.

Carbon-based substances

Atoms of carbon can join or bond easily with each other and also with numerous other atoms. This allows carbon to be the basis of a vast variety of substances, from wood to plastics. The structures and substances in all living things—plants and all animals, including humans—are based on carbon. Atoms of carbon easily join with oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen. In different combinations they form substances such as the sugars and starches found in living things. Even the chemicals which form our genes, known as DNA, have carbon as their main element.
 

Carbon forms more compounds than any other element: nearly 10 million are known.

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