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IYPT Elements

IYPT 2019 Elements 006: Carbon: diamonds, pencils and life

Carbon – found in various forms such as diamond and graphite, and essential to life. Carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere, raising global temperatures and contributing to global warming.

Here’s element number six, carbon, in the series of element graphics I’m producing with the Royal Society of Chemistry for the International Year of the Periodic Table.

Elemental carbon has several different forms, known as allotropes. Diamond is one of the best known, and one of the hardest known substances. Graphite, another allotrope of carbon, is much softer and is found in pencil lead. Other carbon allotropes include carbon nanotubes and fullerenes.

Carbon also forms the basis of organic chemistry, and is essential to life. It’s able to form a huge variety of chains of different lengths; over 10 million different organic compounds are known.

Though carbon is essential to life, the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels poses a growing threat. Carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere, raising global temperatures. Since the industrial age began, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen from 280 parts per million to 410 parts per million. Across the globe, the past five years have been the hottest five years on record, and 20 of the warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years.