Written by 2:08 pm Issue 4 - April 2024

What makes carbon the building block of life on Earth? by Dr. Girish S. Barpande

carbon the building block of life on Earth

Carbon has been known to us as the building block of life on Earth for a long time. Recently, interest in carbon has increased for many reasons. People are researching carbon fibre composites and smart materials, like Carbon Nano tubes, more than ever. Although carbon looks simple on the periodic table, it acts in interesting ways. This has led to the development of organic chemistry, a new branch of chemistry.

Do you know that the single common thing that unites the whole life on the earth is Carbon? Be it a human being, an animal, the smallest bacteria, a tree, a plant, or a tiny insect. For decades, scientists have been curious about whether life exists elsewhere in the universe. Carbon is an essential element in the universe, playing a crucial role in the formation of life. Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe. It comes after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. But what makes carbon so unique? Let’s explore.

Formation of Carbon

Carbon was created during the Big Bang. It was formed from nuclear fusion reactions. These are the reactions that happened between helium and hydrogen. However, this process only produced small amounts of carbon. The majority of carbon was created through nuclear fusion reactions inside stars.

As stars go through their life cycle, they produce energy by fusing hydrogen atoms to form helium. When stars use up their hydrogen, they begin to fuse helium atoms. This is because of their immense gravity. This process creates heavier elements, such as carbon and oxygen. When these stars end their life, they explode as supernovas. This explosion releases all elements they created into space. This includes carbon, the building block of life on Earth.

Carbon Chemistry

Atoms always try to reach a lower energy state to become stable. They do this by combining with other atoms. This process is what chemistry is all about.

Carbon is neither the most common nor the most stable element on Earth. It has four electrons in its outer shell but needs four more to be stable. This need makes carbon very interactive. It can form strong, stable bonds with many elements. Carbon atoms share or borrow electrons to form various compounds. They do this through covalent bonds. Carbon is in a group of elements in the periodic table that can form up to four bonds. These bonds are called tetravalent bonds. They allow carbon to form many complex compounds. There is a branch of chemistry called Organic Chemistry. It specializes in studying these compounds. This study is extremely important.

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