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What is Carbon

Carbon (pronounced as KAR-ben) is a soft nonmetal denoted by the chemical symbol C that exists in several forms like diamond, graphite, graphene, and fullerense. It is the sixth most abundant element in the earth’s crust, it can be obtained in the form of black powder by burning organic compounds in limited supply of oxygen [1].


Where is Carbon Found in Nature

In the earth’s crust different forms of the element exist. Natural diamonds occurs in mineral called kimberlite that’s commonly found in Botswana, Russia, DR Congo, South Africa, and Canada. Graphite reserves can be found in Brazil, Canada, Ukraine, India, and Norway. It forms an important constituent in all living beings and also found as fossil remains in hydrocarbons and carbonates [1].


Origin of its Name: It is derived from the Latin word ‘carbo’ that means charcoal [1].

Who Discovered it: Unknown

When, Where, and How was it Discovered

The different allotropes of C were identified one by one since they existed naturally in many places. In the case of diamond, a naturalist, Giuseppe Averani and a medico, Cipriano Targioni, discovered it in 1694 by concentrating sunlight on it with a magnifying glass. In 1771, Pierre-Joseph Macquer and Godefroy de Villetaneuse conducted the experiment. However, it was only in 1796 when Smithson Tennant, an English chemist, proved diamond to be an allotropic form of carbon [1].

Carbon Element


Atomic number 6 [1]
CAS number 7440-44-0 [1]
Position in the periodic table [1] Group Period Block
14 2 p

Classification, Properties and Characteristics of Carbon

General Properties

Relative atomic mass 12.011 [1]
Atomic mass/weight 12.011 atomic mass units [3]
Molar mass/Molecular weight 12.011 g/mole [5]
Mass Number 12

Physical Properties

Color/physical appearance Black (graphite), transparent (diamond), black/dark brown (graphene and fullerenes) [1]
Melting point/freezing point Undergoes sublimation at 3825°C (6917°F) [1]
Boiling point Undergoes sublimation at 3825°C (6917°F) [1]
Density 2.2 g/cm3 (graphite), 3.513 g/cm3 (diamond) [1]
Standard/Natural state at room temperature (solid/liquid/gas) Solid [1]
Malleability No [4]
Hardness 0.5 Mohs [6]
Specific heat capacity 0.71 J g-1 oC (graphite), 0.5091 (diamond) [3]
Thermal conductivity 27-450 Wm-1K-1 (graphite), 450 Wm-1K-1 (diamond) [3]
Electrical conductivity 0.07×106 S m-1

Chemical Properties

Flammability Highly flammable [5]
Oxidation states (numbers) 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4[1]

Atomic Data of Carbon (Element 6)

Valence electrons [9] 4 [9]
Quantum numbers [10]
– n 1
– ℓ 0
– m 0
– ms +1/2
Electron configuration (noble gas configuration) [He] 2s22p2[1]
Atomic structure [5]
– Number of Electrons 6
– Number of Neutrons 6
– Number of Protons 6
Radius of atom
– Atomic Radius 1.70 Å [1]
– Covalent Radius 0.75 Å [1]
Ionization energy [1]


1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th
1086.454 2352.631 4620.471 6222.716 37830.648 47277.174

Carbon Atomic Structure (Bohr Model)

What is Carbon Element Used for

  • Carbon fibers (graphite fibers) being lightweight and strong are used in helmets, tennis rackets, guitars, knives, fishing rods, skateboards, tripods, rockets, barrels, rods, and airplanes [1]. Its fiber sheets also have certain robotic applications.
  • Hydrocarbons obtained from fossil fuels has a high C content that’s commonly used as commercial fuels, fibers, polymers, paints, plastics, and solvents [1].
  • Carbon nanotubes coated with silicon or nitrogen are used as anodes in lithium ion batteries [7].
  • Filters used in exhaust fans are coated with a layer activated C to remove impurities and harmful contaminants [8].
  • The impure forms of the metal called charcoal and coke are required in iron and steel industries to carry out several processes such as smelting [1].
  • Graphite is a common addition in pencils, furnace linings, and electric motor brushes [1].
  • Apart from having application in costly jewelry-making, crude diamonds are used in cutting and drilling rocks [1].
  • C alloyed with steel is of great importance in the making of skillet, swords, knives, and pipes [1].
  • A combination of carbon and ceramic is used in brakes of automobiles.

Is the Element Toxic

While pure C is not toxic, prolonged inhalation of the dust can lead to irritation in the lungs and cause heart damage.

Carbon Fiber Sheets

Interesting Facts

  • Carbon is known as the ‘King of Elements’ as it can form more than 10 million compounds. In fact, the image of the element is represented by three crowns denoting the same [1, 9].
  • It is believed to be present in stars and sun as a result of debris from a previous supernova [1].

Carbon Cost

The price of the pure element may vary between $2 and $3 per gram.



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