Carbon: an element that can levitate
Experiments with carbon and its areas of application
Carbon is one of the few chemical elements to have allotropic modifications, meaning that it exists in different forms that vary widely in chemical and physical properties. Its most well-known allotropic modifications are coal, graphite, and diamond. Curiously, graphite and coal are quite soft, while diamond is the hardest of the naturally-occurring minerals.
Carbon in the form of pyrolytic graphite also possesses the unique ability to magnetically levitate. If a piece is placed in a magnetic field, the field will hold the pyrolytic graphite in the air, creating a “levitating” effect. When placed in a magnetic field, pyrolytic graphite creates its own field to oppose the one acting on it.
Carbon has been utilized in the forms of soot and coal since ancient times. In 1772, A. Lavoisier demonstrated that diamond and coal were both forms of carbon, and in 1789 he listed carbon as a chemical element in his writings.
In 1996, R. Curl, H. Kroto, and R. Smalley received the Nobel prize in chemistry for the discovery of a new form of carbon – fullerenes. Curiously, fullerenes С₆₀ and С₇₀ are structured like soccer and rugby balls. This discovery revived interest towards carbon and its modifications.
Chemical properties and obtainment
Carbon can be found naturally as two simple substances – graphite and diamond – and less frequently as coal. Carbon is quite inert in standard conditions, but can act as a reducing agent when heated. It can reduce copper(II) oxide to copper:
С + 2CuO = CO₂ + 2Cu
Coal smolders in air, but ignites in pure oxygen:
С + О₂ = СО₂
Carbon compounds are fundamental to life on Earth; carbon is present in proteins, fats, carbohydrates, enzymes, and DNA, all of which are integral to the existence of each living organism.
- Graphite is most well-known for its use in pencil rods.
- Activated carbon absorbs gases efficiently.
- It is utilized in gas masks and respirators.
- Activated carbon’s low toxicity makes it useful as an adsorbent in medicine.
- Thanks to their incredible hardness, diamonds are used to make knives, drills, and chisels.
- Cut and refined diamonds are popular in jewelry.
- Carbon can also be found in several forms of fuel: oil, lumber, and coal. Moreover, it is fundamental in plastics, rubber, and other materials crucial for modern humankind.
- Carbon is a fundamental component of steel and cast-iron.
- Soot (carbon) can be used as a pigment in paints.
- Carbon fibers are used in car manufacturing for their strength and lightness.
- Curiously, the constantly-forming (14C) in the atmosphere, which plants readily absorb, can be used to determine the ages of archeological discoveries.