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Carbon - Why Carbon Is Special

atoms atom molecule electrons

There are now more than ten million organic compounds known by chemists. Many more undoubtedly exist in nature, and organic chemists are continually creating (synthesizing) new ones. Carbon is the only element that can form so many different compounds because each carbon atom can form four chemical bonds to other atoms, and because the carbon atom is just the right, small size to fit in comfortably as parts of very large molecules.

Having the atomic number 6, every carbon atom has a total of six electrons. Two are in a completed inner orbit, while the other four are valence electrons—outer electrons that are available for forming bonds with other atoms.

The carbon atom's four valence electrons can be shared by other atoms that have electrons to share, thus forming covalent (shared-electron) bonds. They can even be shared by other carbon atoms, which in turn can share electrons with other carbon atoms and so on, forming long strings of carbon atoms, bonded to each other like links in a chain. Silicon (Si), another element in group 14 of the periodic table, also has four valence electrons and can make large molecules called silicones, but its atoms are too large to fit together into as great a variety of molecules as carbon atoms can.

Carbon's ability to form long carbon-to-carbon chains is the first of five reasons that there can be so many different carbon compounds; a molecule that differs by even one atom is, of course, a molecule of a different compound. The second reason for carbon's astounding compound-forming ability is that carbon atoms can bind to each other not only in straight chains, but in complex branchings, like the branches of a tree. They can even join "head-to-tail" to make rings of carbon atoms. There is practically no limit to the number or complexity of the branches or the number of rings that can be attached to them, and hence no limit to the number of different molecules that can be formed.

The third reason is that carbon atoms can share not only a single electron with another atom to form a single bond, but it can also share two or three electrons, forming a double or triple bond. This makes for a huge number of possible bond combinations at different places, making a huge number of different possible molecules. And a molecule that differs by even one atom or one bond position is a molecule of a different compound.

The fourth reason is that the same collection of atoms and bonds, but in a different geometrical arrangement within the molecule, makes a molecule with a different shape and hence different properties. These different molecules are called isomers.

The fifth reason is that all of the electrons that are not being used to bond carbon atoms together into chains and rings can be used to form bonds with atoms of several other elements. The most common other element is hydrogen, which makes the family of compounds known as hydrocarbons. But nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulfur, halogens, and several other kinds of atoms can also be attached as part of an organic molecule. There is a huge number of ways in which they can be attached to the carbon-atom branches, and each variation makes a molecule of a different compound. It's just as if moving a Christmas tree ornament from one branch to another created a completely different tree.

[back] Carbon - The Chemistry Of Carbon

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20 days ago

Simply epic. only big brains can understand the complexity and passion behind this post. Not only is it informing, but also gives a view into the life and troubles of the author. Never in my life have I laid my eyes upon something so enlightening

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19 days ago

The poster above me is a complete fool. A microscope is necessary to view his puny brain. NOT ONLY is this article completely false, but it infringes on my christian beliefs. Only TRUE MEN of God understand that carbon is a MYTH made up by the Atheist scum. CHECKMATE ATHEISTS!!!11!1

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almost 10 years ago

Very Accurate information.

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almost 10 years ago

Very useful information...

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almost 7 years ago

This website is amazing! I am currently in biology and had just came out of an advanced physical science class last year which taugh me so much! This website is a great refresher and makes things simple. Highly reccomended (:

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about 2 years ago

I for one congratulate you on and appreciate your concise yet full explanation of the unique properties of the Carbon atom. IMHO the more details the better.

I find it disheartening that the obviously youthful commenters here have such short attention spans and demand simplistic and thus inadequate explanations.

Also disheartening is that ~90% of the comments here are moronic.

But then I'm an older person with rational values which seem to be increasingly uncommon.

Inspite, please continue your fine work for those few that appreciate it. Thank You.

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almost 7 years ago

well

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12 months ago

Reading these comments makes me realize I need to prepare. Idiocracy is no longer a movie, it is a documentary.

I think you did an amazing job summarizing, simplifying, and articulating a topic that can be rather complicated. You kept in the most important details. Thank you.

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over 6 years ago

yeah i understood every bit of that...well except after the first sentence =P just kidin

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about 6 years ago

not as bad as it looks

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about 7 years ago

this is so wierd i hav no idea what im talking abuout blahh blaahhhh blaahh

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over 5 years ago

I think this needs to be shortened. Most teenagers looking for information on this will not be able to find it, because you made it so long. Simple question. Why is carbon so special?

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about 1 year ago

It looks confusing but it helps and showed me many things so i can complete my darn homework

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over 3 years ago

Awesome

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about 4 years ago

I found this very resourceful and entertaining. Just kidding.

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almost 2 years ago

@emansnas

Please dont be negative and insult other people.

thanks

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about 6 years ago

not as bad as it looks

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over 2 years ago

For those of us who had to actually write an essay, this was VERY helpful! And Billy Joe, I've been asking that FOREVER.

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about 6 years ago

not as bad as it looks

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over 2 years ago

say what?

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about 4 years ago

Got just what I was looking for.It would`ve been better if it were summarised.

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almost 8 years ago

this suxs

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almost 2 years ago

This is not a good site for 8th graders like me to use to learn stuff

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over 2 years ago

For those of us who had to actually write an essay, this was VERY helpful! And Billy Joe, I've been asking that FOREVER.

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over 8 years ago

julius antonius & rohit raj sattar are right the information is accurate & useful. :-)

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over 3 years ago

well but not up to the mark

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over 7 years ago

i think as planets,there will be different types of electrons. The spatial quantisation actually misleads our understanding about the actual situation. it is mere a replica of the solar sytem. i think thermo dynamics will give some way. The energy of a particle is meaningless; u can see the fundamental quantities are very close to zeros.

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over 3 years ago

Hi bill nye the science guy

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about 4 years ago

moo.

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almost 6 years ago

i dont get a word

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19 days ago

IM Athiest and its STILL FALSE

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9 months ago

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8 months ago

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about 4 years ago

Hi.

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almost 3 years ago

I like it but it needs to get to the point faster I almost fell asleep

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over 3 years ago

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about 3 years ago

it is not that good

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over 2 years ago

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almost 3 years ago

This answer is way too long. It would be more useful if you simply answered the question, not write an essay about it.

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this is bulls**t this is not what i was looking for plus it needs to be shortend .

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almost 3 years ago

This place blows

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almost 3 years ago

AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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almost 3 years ago

do black people have carbon in them?

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almost 3 years ago

this is so dumb dont ever think that this will help someone

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over 2 years ago

hi girl

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Great!

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