The chemistry of Carbon

The element carbon is a very important element in the universe. This element is responsible for life on earth. Carbon is having a unique property of forming multiple compounds and this alone makes carbon different from all other elements and a separate branch of Chemistry of these compounds is known as organic chemistry has developed. The physical and chemical properties and uses are discussed in this article.


Carbon is an element which is entirely different from other elements. It is the element which occurs in many different forms than all other elements. Many compounds of carbon are known. No other element is having as many compounds as that of carbon.

Coal, soot and diamonds are almost pure forms of carbon. Carbon occurs in all living organisms as proteins, fats, carbohydrates and nucleic acids. The chemical symbol of carbon is C. The atomic number of carbon is 6. Atomic weight is around 12.Organic chemistry is a separate field of study of carbon compounds. All organic compounds will have carbon as an ingredient but all carbon compounds are not organic. Carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide are examples of inorganic carbon compounds. Carbon is known since the earlier times. The people of the rock era when made a fire saw smoke form. The colour of the smoke is black and it is unburned particles of carbon. When oil is burned, it releases carbon and forms soot which is known as lampblack. This lampblack is being used as eyeliner by females and is being mixed with olive oil to make ink. The charcoal is a common form of carbon. Carbon was classified as an element in 1787, Coal, graphite and diamonds are all also nearly pure forms of carbon.

Physical properties

Carbon exists in many allotropic forms. Allotropes are different forms of an element with different physical and chemical properties. Diamond and graphite are allotropes of carbon having the crystalline structure. Graphite is used as the lead in pencils. It is also a good lubricant. The coal, lampblack, charcoal and coke are non-crystalline allotropes of carbon. The Diamond is the hardest natural substance known. The melting point of diamond is about 3,700°C (6,700°F) and its boiling point is about 4,200°C (7,600°F). Its density is 3.50 grams per cubic centimetre.

The graphite is a very soft material. Graphite does not melt when heated but sublimes at about 3,650°C (6.600°F). Its density is about 1.5 to 1.8 grams per cubic centimetre.

Chemical properties

Carbon will not dissolve in water, acids, or most other materials. It will not react also with these materials but will react with oxygen does, however, react with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) and carbon monoxide (CO). .The element carbon forms form long chains. Carbon has the capability of forming bonding with other small atoms like hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. A carbon can form a bond with other carbon atoms also. The carbon atom has no affinity for ion formation and hence it can't participate in ionic bonds. But it forms covalent bonds by sharing of electrons.


Carbon is the sixth most common element on the earth. It is the fourth most common element in the solar system. It is the second most common element in the human body after oxygen. Carbon is also available in many minerals. Calcium Carbonate and magnesium carbonate are the two common minerals of carbon. About 300 parts per million of the atmosphere is carbon dioxide and it is mainly used by plants for converting carbon dioxide to water and carbohydrates. The human beings are able to live on this earth because of this property of plants only. This process is known as Photosynthesis. Natural gas, coal and oil are also sources of carbon. These materials are commonly known as fossil fuels.


There are many uses for carbon. Diamonds have many industrial uses. They are used to polish, grind and cut glass, metals and other materials. Synthetic diamonds are more commonly used in industry. Graphite is used in pencils as it can be easily erased. It is also used as a lubricant. As Graphite withstands very high temperature it is also used as the refractory material. The graphite is used in making pyrotechnics explosives and paints. Amorphous carbon is used in inks, paints, rubber tyres etc. Activated Charcoal which is being made using carbon is used in industry for removing impurities in solutions and liquids.


Carbon is a very important element in the universe. Without this, there is no life on the earth. The food we eat, the dress we wear, the books we read, the pen we use for writing, the pencil we use will all contain carbon. There are many organic compounds which are very important for our living on this earth. Thus this element, carbon forms a very important component in our life.


Author: Partha K.18 Dec 2017 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 2

This is an excellent article from Dr. Rao. It will help all students of Chemistry who are in middle and secondary classes. Carbon is one of the most active elements. It is the constituent of a maximum number of compounds. An entire branch of Chemistry, i.e., organic chemistry is based upon Carbon.

I have gone through the article. Dr. Rao has explained the basic properties of Carbon (both physical and chemical properties) in a very lucid manner. However, I feel that the allotropy (as exhibited by Carbon) is required to be dealt with in a little bit more details. The students must know that the arrangement of Carbon atoms in a given form changes according to its method of formation or preparation.

Similarly I feel that the covalent bond could have been explained in detail. Formation of a covalent bond by sharing of electrons causes covalent compounds and in turn, creates a new branch of chemistry (i.e., organic chemistry).

Author: DR.N.V. Srinivasa Rao18 Dec 2017 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 0

Partha, Thank you for your review of my article. Intentionally only I have avoided more details on allotropic forms and the details of those of carbon. Same way I have not gone into the details of a covalent bond. Anyhow I will rethink and if at all anything can be added I will try to do that. Basically, my intention in writing this article is that a sixth class or seventh class student should understand what I wrote. I think by seeing your remarks my intentions are fulfilled in this article.

Guest Author: Shirish Shanbhag26 Dec 2017

Excellent, comprehensive and informative article on element carbon. Kindly keep writing such informative articles on other elements and also on carbon compounds.

Author: Venkiteswaran07 Jan 2018 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 5

Reading this article takes me back to my chemistry classes.

Carbon for a layman is just the black charcoal he gets after burning wood or coal. We were taking Carbon copies of documents by placing Carbon papers below the original document while writing or typing.

A special branch of Chemistry is earmarked just to learn about the vast number of substances and chemicals where carbon is the main element.

This is because Carbon follows a very good discipline so that the l scientists can easily categorise them, name them and understand them by allotting them to certain 'families'.
However those not studied chemistry wil be surprised to know that the black soot of lampblack and the white shining diamond are both basically Carbon.

Very sadly the same Carbon is now blamed for the Global Warming and people remember Carbon when they hear about 'Carbon Credits'.

We can very well save Carbon, the blame for global warming by afforestation, growing more pants and reducing fossil fuels so that carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide presence in the atmosphere is reduced.

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