2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Chemical elements

6 boroncarbonnitrogen


Periodic Table - Extended Periodic Table
Name, Symbol, Number carbon, C, 6
Chemical series nonmetals
Group, Period, Block 14, 2, p
Appearance black (graphite)
colorless (diamond)
Atomic mass 12.0107 (8) g/mol
Electron configuration 1s2 2s2 2p2
Electrons per shell 2, 4
Physical properties
Phase solid
Density (near r.t.) (graphite) 2.267 g·cm−3
Density (near r.t.) (diamond) 3.513 g·cm−3
Melting point  ? triple point, ca. 10 MPa
and (4300–4700)  K
(4027–4427 ° C,
7280–8000 ° F)
Boiling point  ? subl. ca. 4000 K
(3727 ° C, 6740 ° F)
Heat of fusion (graphite) ? 100 kJ·mol−1
Heat of fusion (diamond) ? 120 kJ·mol−1
Heat of vaporization  ? 355.8 kJ·mol−1
Heat capacity (25 °C) (graphite)
8.517 J·mol−1·K−1
Heat capacity (25 °C) (diamond)
6.115 J·mol−1·K−1
Vapor pressure (graphite)
P/Pa 1 10 100 1 k 10 k 100 k
at T/K   2839 3048 3289 3572 3908
Atomic properties
Crystal structure hexagonal
Oxidation states 4, 2
(mildly acidic oxide)
Electronegativity 2.55 (Pauling scale)
Ionization energies
( more)
1st: 1086.5 kJ·mol−1
2nd: 2352.6 kJ·mol−1
3rd: 4620.5 kJ·mol−1
Atomic radius 70 pm
Atomic radius (calc.) 67 pm
Covalent radius 77 pm
Van der Waals radius 170 pm
Magnetic ordering diamagnetic
Thermal conductivity (300 K) (graphite)
(119–165) W·m−1·K−1
Thermal conductivity (300 K) (diamond)
(900–2320) W·m−1·K−1
Thermal diffusivity (300 K) (diamond)
(503–1300) mm²/ s
Mohs hardness (graphite) 1-2
Mohs hardness (diamond) 10.0
CAS registry number 7440-44-0
Selected isotopes
Main article: Isotopes of carbon
iso NA half-life DM DE ( MeV) DP
12C 98.9% C is stable with 6 neutrons
13C 1.1% C is stable with 7 neutrons
14C trace 5730 y beta- 0.156 14N

Carbon ( IPA: /ˈkɑːbən/) is a chemical element in the periodic table that has the symbol C and atomic number 6. An abundant nonmetallic, tetravalent element, carbon has several allotropic forms.


Carbon occurs in all organic life and is the basis of organic chemistry. This nonmetal also has the interesting chemical property of being able to bond with itself and a wide variety of other elements, forming nearly ten million known compounds. When united with oxygen it forms carbon dioxide, which is vital to plant growth. When united with hydrogen, it forms various compounds called hydrocarbons which are essential to industry in the form of fossil fuels. When combined with both oxygen and hydrogen it can form many groups of compounds including fatty acids, which are essential to life, and esters, which give flavor to many fruits. The isotope carbon-14 is commonly used in radioactive dating.

Notable characteristics

Carbon is a remarkable element for many reasons. Its different forms include the hardest naturally occurring substance (diamond) and one of the softest substances ( graphite) known. Moreover, it has a great affinity for bonding with other small atoms, including other carbon atoms, and its small size makes it capable of forming multiple bonds. Because of these properties, carbon is known to form nearly ten million different compounds, the large majority of all chemical compounds. Carbon compounds form the basis of all life on Earth and the carbon-nitrogen cycle provides some of the energy produced by the Sun and other stars. Moreover, carbon has the highest melting/ sublimation point of all elements. At atmospheric pressure it has no actual melting point as its triple point is at 10 MPa (100 bar) so it sublimates above 4000 K. Thus it remains solid at higher temperatures than the highest melting point metals like tungsten or rhenium, regardless of its allotropic form.

Carbon was not created during the Big Bang due to the fact that it needs a triple collision of alpha particles (helium nuclei) to be produced. The universe initially expanded and cooled too fast for that to be possible. It is produced, however, in the interior of stars in the horizontal branch, where stars transform a helium core into carbon by means of the triple-alpha process. It was also created in a multi-atomic state.


Carbon is a very important component of all known living systems, and without it life as we know it could not exist (see alternative biochemistry). The major economic use of carbon is in the form of hydrocarbons, most notably the fossil fuel methane gas and crude oil (petroleum). Crude oil is used by the petrochemical industry to produce, amongst others, gasoline and kerosene, through a distillation process, in refineries. Crude oil forms the raw material for many synthetic substances, many of which are collectively called plastics.

Other uses

  • The isotope carbon-14 was discovered on February 27, 1940 and is used in radiocarbon dating.
  • Industrial Diamonds are used in the boaring industry.
  • Graphite is combined with clays to form the 'lead' used in pencils.
  • Diamond is used for decorative purposes, and also as drill bits and other applications making use of its hardness.
  • Carbon is added to iron to make steel.
  • Carbon is used as a neutron moderator in nuclear reactors.
  • Carbon fibre, which is mainly used for composite materials, as well as high-temperature gas filtration.
  • Carbon black is used as a filler in rubber and plastic compounds.
  • Graphite carbon in a powdered, caked form is used as charcoal for grilling, artwork and other uses.
  • Activated charcoal is used in medicine (as powder or compounded in tablets or capsules) to adsorb toxins, poisons, or gases from the digestive system.

The chemical and structural properties of fullerenes, in the form of carbon nanotubes, has promising potential uses in the nascent field of nanotechnology.

History and Etymology

Carbon was discovered in prehistory and was known to the ancients, who manufactured it by burning organic material in insufficient oxygen (making charcoal). It is also found in abundance in the sun, stars, comets, and atmospheres of most planets. Carbon in the form of microscopic diamonds is found in some meteorites.

Natural diamonds are found in kimberlite of ancient volcanic "pipes," found in South Africa, Arkansas, and elsewhere. Diamonds are now also being recovered from the ocean floor off the Cape of Good Hope. About 30% of all industrial diamonds used in the U.S. are now made synthetically.

The energy of the sun and stars can be attributed at least in part to the well-known carbon-nitrogen cycle.

The name of Carbon comes from Latin carbo, whence comes French charbone, meaning charcoal. In German and Dutch, the names for carbon are Kohlenstoff and koolstof respectively, both literally meaning "coal-stuff".


The allotropes of carbon are the different molecular configurations that pure carbon can take.

The three relatively well-known allotropes of carbon are amorphous carbon, graphite, and diamond. Several exotic allotropes have also been synthesized or discovered, including fullerenes, carbon nanotubes, lonsdaleite and aggregated diamond nanorods.

In its amorphous form, carbon is essentially graphite but not held in a crystalline macrostructure. It is, rather, present as a powder which is the main constituent of substances such as charcoal, lampblack ( soot) and activated carbon.

Basic phase diagram of carbon, which shows the state of matter for varying temperatures and pressures. The hashed regions indicate conditions under which one phase is metastable, so that two phases can coexist.
Basic phase diagram of carbon, which shows the state of matter for varying temperatures and pressures. The hashed regions indicate conditions under which one phase is metastable, so that two phases can coexist.

At normal pressures carbon takes the form of graphite, in which each atom is bonded to three others in a plane composed of fused hexagonal rings, just like those in aromatic hydrocarbons. The two known forms of graphite, alpha (hexagonal) and beta ( rhombohedral), both have identical physical properties, except for their crystal structure. Graphites that naturally occur have been found to contain up to 30% of the beta form, when synthetically-produced graphite only contains the alpha form. The alpha form can be converted to the beta form through mechanical treatment and the beta form reverts back to the alpha form when it is heated above 1000 ° C.

Because of the delocalization of the pi-cloud, graphite conducts electricity. The material is soft and the sheets, frequently separated by other atoms, are held together only by Van der Waals forces, so easily slip past one another.

At very high pressures carbon forms an allotrope called diamond, in which each atom is bonded to four others. Diamond has the same cubic structure as silicon and germanium and, thanks to the strength of the carbon-carbon bonds, is together with the isoelectronic boron nitride (BN) the hardest substance in terms of resistance to scratching. The transition to graphite at room temperature is so slow as to be unnoticeable. Under some conditions, carbon crystallizes as Lonsdaleite, a form similar to diamond but hexagonal.

Fullerenes have a graphite-like structure, but instead of purely hexagonal packing, also contain pentagons (or possibly heptagons) of carbon atoms, which bend the sheet into spheres, ellipses or cylinders. The properties of fullerenes (also called " buckyballs" and " buckytubes") have not yet been fully analyzed. All the names of fullerenes are after Buckminster Fuller, developer of the geodesic dome, which mimics the structure of "buckyballs".

A nanofoam allotrope has been discovered which is ferromagnetic.

Eight allotropes of carbon: diamond, graphite, lonsdaleite,C60, C540, C70, amorphous carbon and a carbon nanotube.
Eight allotropes of carbon:
diamond, graphite, lonsdaleite,C60, C540, C70, amorphous carbon and a carbon nanotube.

Carbon allotropes include:

  • Diamond: Hardest known natural mineral. Structure: each atom is bonded tetrahedrally to four others, making a 3-dimensional network of puckered six-membered rings of atoms.
  • Graphite: One of the softest substances. Structure: each atom is bonded trigonally to three other atoms, making a 2-dimensional network of flat six-membered rings; the flat sheets are loosely bonded.
  • Fullerenes: Structure: comparatively large molecules formed completely of carbon bonded trigonally, forming spheroids (of which the best-known and simplest is the buckminsterfullerene or buckyball, because of its soccerball-shaped structure).
  • Chaoite: A mineral believed to be formed in meteorite impacts.
  • Lonsdaleite: A corruption of diamond. Structure: similar to diamond, but forming a hexagonal crystal lattice.
  • Amorphous carbon: A glassy substance. Structure: an assortment of carbon molecules in a non-crystalline, irregular, glassy state.
  • Carbon nanofoam (discovered in 1997): An extremely light magnetic web. Structure: a low-density web of graphite-like clusters, in which the atoms are bonded trigonally in six- and seven-membered rings.
  • Carbon nanotubes: Tiny tubes. Structure: each atom is bonded trigonally in a curved sheet that forms a hollow cylinder.
  • Aggregated diamond nanorods (synthesised in 2005): The most recently discovered allotrope and the hardest substance known to man.
  • Lampblack: Consists of small graphitic areas. These areas are randomly distributed, so the whole structure is isotropic.
  • ' Glassy carbon': An isotropic substance that contains a high proportion of closed porosity. Unlike normal graphite, the graphitic layers are not stacked like pages in a book, but have a more random arrangement.

Carbon fibers are similar to glassy carbon. Under special treatment (stretching of organic fibers and carbonization) it is possible to arrange the carbon planes in direction of the fiber. Perpendicular to the fibre axis there is no orientation of the carbon planes. The result are fibers with a higher specific strength than steel.

The system of carbon allotropes spans a range of extremes.

Between diamond and graphite:

  • Graphite is soft and is used in pencils
  • Diamond is the hardest mineral known to man (although aggregated diamond nanorods are now believed to be even harder), but graphite is one of the softest.
  • Diamond is the ultimate abrasive, but graphite is a very good lubricant.
  • Diamond is an excellent electrical insulator, but graphite is a conductor of electricity.
  • Diamond is an excellent thermal conductor, but some forms of graphite are used for thermal insulation (i.e. firebreaks and heatshields)
  • Diamond is usually transparent, but graphite is opaque.
  • Diamond crystallizes in the cubic system but graphite crystallizes in the hexagonal system.

Between amorphous carbon and nanotubes:

  • Amorphous carbon is among the easiest materials to synthesize, but carbon nanotubes are extremely expensive to make.
  • Amorphous carbon is completely isotropic, but carbon nanotubes are among the most anisotropic materials ever produced.


There are nearly ten million carbon compounds known to science. Many thousands of these are vital to life processes. They are also many organic-based reactions of economic importance.

Carbon is abundant in the sun, stars, comets, and in the atmospheres of most planets. Some meteorites contain microscopic diamonds that were formed when the solar system was still a protoplanetary disk. In combination with other elements, carbon is found in the earth's atmosphere (around 810 gigatonnes) and dissolved in all water bodies (around 36000 gigatonnes). Around 1900 gigatonnes are present in the biosphere. Hydrocarbons (such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas) contain carbon as well--coal "reserves" (not "resources") amount to around 1000 gigatonnes, and oil reserves around 150 gigatonnes. With smaller amounts of calcium, magnesium, and iron, carbon is a major component of very large masses carbonate rock ( limestone, dolomite, marble etc.).

Graphite is found in large quantities in New York and Texas, the United States; Russia; Mexico; Greenland and India.

Natural diamonds occur in the mineral kimberlite found in ancient volcanic "necks," or "pipes". Most diamond deposits are in Africa, notably in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, the Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone. There are also deposits in Arkansas, Canada, the Russian Arctic, Brazil and in Northern and Western Australia.

According to studies from the Massachussets Institute of Tecnology, an estimate of the global carbon budget is:

Biosphere, oceans, atmosphere.......3,7 x 1018 moles

Organic Carbon ...............................1100 x 1018 moles
Carbonates......................................5200 x 1018 moles

Earth´s Mantle.............................100000 x 1018 moles

Organic compounds

The most prominent oxide of carbon is carbon dioxide, CO2. This is a minor component of the Earth's atmosphere, produced and used by living things, and a common volatile elsewhere. In water it forms trace amounts of carbonic acid, H2CO3, but as most compounds with multiple single-bonded oxygens on a single carbon it is unstable. Through this intermediate, though, resonance-stabilized carbonate ions are produced. Some important minerals are carbonates, notably calcite. Carbon disulfide, CS2, is similar.

The other oxides are carbon monoxide, CO, the uncommon carbon suboxide, C3O2, the uncommon dicarbon monoxide, C2O and even carbon trioxide, CO3. Carbon monoxide is formed by incomplete combustion, and is a colorless, odorless gas. The molecules each contain a triple bond and are fairly polar, resulting in a tendency to bind permanently to hemoglobin molecules, displacing oxygen, which has a lower binding affinity. Cyanide, CN-, has a similar structure and behaves a lot like a halide ion; the nitride cyanogen, (CN)2, is related.

With reactive metals, such as tungsten, carbon forms either carbides, C-, or acetylides, C22- to form alloys with very high melting points. These anions are also associated with methane and acetylene, both very weak acids. All in all, with an electronegativity of 2.5, carbon prefers to form covalent bonds. A few carbides are covalent lattices, like carborundum, SiC, which resembles diamond.

Carbon chains

Carbon has the ability to form long chains with interconnecting C-C bonds. This property is called catenation. Carbon-carbon bonds are fairly strong, and abnormally stable. This property is important as it allows carbon to form a huge number of compounds; in fact, there are more known carbon-containing compounds than all the compounds of the other chemical elements combined.

The simplest form of an organic molecule is the hydrocarbon - a large family of organic molecules that, by definition, are composed of hydrogen atoms bonded to a chain of carbon atoms. Chain length, side chains and functional groups all affect the properties of organic molecules.

Carbon cycle

Under terrestrial conditions, conversion of one isotope to another is very rare. Therefore, for practical purposes, the amount of carbon on Earth is constant. Thus processes that use carbon must obtain it somewhere, dispose of it somewhere. The paths that carbon follows in the environment are called the carbon cycle. For example, plants draw carbon dioxide out of the environments and use it to build biomass as in carbon respiration. Some of this biomass is eaten by animals, where some of it is exhaled as carbon dioxide. The carbon cycle is considerably more complicated than this short loop; for example, some carbon dioxide is dissolved in the oceans; dead plant or animal matter may become sedimentary rock, so forth.


Carbon has two stable, naturally-occurring isotopes: carbon-12, or 12C, (98.89%) and carbon-13, or 13C, (1.11%), and one unstable, naturally-occurring, radioisotope; carbon-14 or 14C. There are 15 known isotopes of carbon and the shortest-lived of these is 8C which decays through proton emission and alpha decay. It has a half-life of 1.98739x10-21 s.

In 1961 the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry adopted the isotope carbon-12 as the basis for atomic weights.

Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5730 y and has been used extensively for radiocarbon dating carbonaceous materials.

The exotic 19C exhibits a Nuclear halo


Carbon is relatively safe. Inhalation of fine soot in large quantities can be dangerous. Carbon may spawn flames at very high temperatures and burn vigorously and brightly (as in the Windscale fire).

There are a tremendous number of carbon compounds; some are lethally poisonous ( cyanide, CN-), and some are essential to life ( glucose).

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