Last Reviewed and Updated on June 6, 2022
Carbon, the 6th element of the periodic table, is one of the most important and abundant elements in the universe. Carbon atoms can merge together to form all sorts of different molecules, giving a compound its unique chemical fingerprint and even determining what color it appears to be. In this list, we’ll give you some of the most fascinating facts about carbon.
1. Carbon got its name after coal
The name carbon is derived from the Latin word carbo meaning coal or charcoal. Many other languages have a name for this element that is derived from their native word for coal or a derivate word from Latin.
2. The atoms of carbon can bond together in different ways
In its outer shell, carbon has 4 electrons, meaning it can form 4 covalent bonds. It can form single, double, or even triple bonds with another carbon atom.
3. There are many allotropes of carbon, from graphite to diamond
This is one of the most interesting facts about carbon. Allotropy is the property of a chemical element to exist in more than one shape and carbon is one of such elements. The most well-known allotropes of carbon are coal and diamond, however, there are quite a few more.
4. An allotrope of carbon, the diamond, is the hardest material known to date
Diamond is a form of the element carbon in which the atoms are arranged in a structure named diamond cubic.
As the diamond is made entirely out of carbon, its chemical formula is C. The same as other allotropes.
Of all the known substances, diamond has the highest number of atoms per unit volume, which makes it the hardest known substance.
5. All allotropes of carbon are solid under normal conditions
You know of diamond and graphite, some other less known allotropes include lonsdaleite, fullerene, amorphous carbon, and carbon nanotube…
While different in many ways, all of these have one thing in common, they are all solid under normal conditions.
6. Carbon forms many different compounds, more than any other element
There are millions of different carbon compounds, they have an entire branch of chemistry dedicated to them, the organic chemistry.
Scientist discover new carbon compounds each year, even at an exponential rate.
7. Carbon is the basis of all known life on Earth
Life on Earth is based on carbon. It is a primary component of all known life on the planet. While not as exciting, this is the single most important out of all facts about carbon. No carbon, no life on Earth.
8. Carbon allotropes can have completely opposite characteristics
Just look at the diamond and graphite, they are both made solely out of carbon but their characteristics are like day and night.
Looking at just some of them, graphite is one of the softest compounds on earth while diamond is the hardest compound known to date. Graphite is a conductor of electricity, while diamond is not. Graphite is opaque (doesn’t let light through), and diamond is transparent… While not a chemical characteristic, the difference in price isn’t negligible either.
9. Carbon has the highest melting point of all elements
A melting point of an element or a substance is the temperature at which the substance changes its state from solid to liquid.
Carbon has a melting point of 3500°C 6332°F. Not an easy temperature to reach.
10. It’s the 17th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust
Since carbon is almost everywhere and a major part of living organisms it may come as a surprise that it’s only the 17th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust.
11. By mass, it’s the 4th most abundant element in the observable universe
Helium and hydrogen make up 99.9 percent of the matter in the observable universe, followed by oxygen and carbon. It’s interesting to think how its abundance fades in comparison to the two most common elements.
12. Pure carbon is used in medicine
The most commonly known is the activated charcoal, charcoal that has been treated with oxygen at high temperatures which makes it more porous, it’s commonly used in the treatment of some poisonings as it had the ability to trap certain chemicals. You may have taken it already if you had certain digestive issues.
Scientist study the carbon nanotubes for use in smart drug delivery. It is already applied in medicine today but is constantly being improved. The wonders of medicine!
13. Carbon has 15 known isotopes
Isotopes are different forms of the same element, they all contain an equal number of protons but have a different number of neutrons in their nuclei. They have a different relative atomic mass but still have the same chemical properties.
Out of the 15 isotopes, two are stable. This meaning they are naturally occurring non-radioactive elements. Others are unstable.
14. Carbon is used for determining the age of an object with organic matter (carbon dating)
This is the last one in our list of facts about carbon. Carbon dating or radiocarbon dating is a method for determining the age of an object that contains organic matter. Pretty cool, right?