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

Bi­o­log­i­cal role

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.