Carbon: The basis of organic chemistry

Carbon is an element with atomic number 6 and symbol C. It belongs to the 14th group in the periodic table. The ground state electronic configuration is 1s2 2s2 2p2. Acquiring an inert gas configuration requires achieving four electrons. Most carbon compounds are poor conductors of electricity because of the lack of free electrons and free ions.

Carbon got its name from the Latin word ‘carbo’, which means ‘coal’. Carbon and its compounds are widely distributed in nature. Free carbons are found in big reservoirs like hard coal amorphous form. Pure carbon is in the form of diamond and graphite.

Allotropes of carbon

 The phenomenon in which the element exists in two or more different physical states with similar chemical properties is called Allotropy. Carbon has several allotropes or various forms in which it exists. They are listed below.

  • Diamond: It is an allotrope of carbon in which the atom is with four other atoms of carbon by a covalent bond forming three-dimensional structures. It is a bad conductor of electricity, thus acts as an insulator. Diamond is used as jewellery and also used to drill pits.
  • Graphite: This form of carbon is a good conductor of electricity that has bonded to three other carbon atoms. It is tough enough to use in a nuclear reactor as much energy is required to break the covalent bond. Graphite is mainly used in the pencil leads.
  • Buckminster Fullerene: This form of carbon comprises 60 carbon atoms joined together to form spherical molecules. It is dark solid at room temperature. It is also known as buckyballs. The intermolecular forces are weak in fullerenes and thus have a low melting point.

 Allotropes of carbon are not limited to diamond and graphite but also include buckyballs (fullerenes), amorphous carbon, glassy carbon, carbon nanoform, nanotubes, etc.

Oxides of Carbon

Carbon monoxide is the most superficial carbon oxide, consisting of one carbon atom bonded to an oxygen atom. It is highly toxic. Carbon dioxide is a non-combustible and non-toxic gas having no colour and odour. When it comes to the CO2 structure, carbon dioxide is made up of two types of atoms: Carbon and Oxygen. Carbon is in the central position as it is the least electronegative atom and oxygen at terminals.

Carbon Monoxide

  • Carbon monoxide is composed of one carbon and one oxygen atom. It is a colourless, tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air and very toxic to living organisms.
  • The primary source of carbon monoxide is the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbon fuels.
  • Carbon monoxide is prepared by burning carbon with oxygen in a limited supply of air.

2C + O2 → 2CO

  • It is used as a reducing agent in the metallurgical process.
  • It is often used in the preparation of poisonous gas.

Carbon dioxide

  • Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring carbon compound with one carbon and two oxygen attached covalently.
  • It is a colourless odourless gas under normal conditions.
  • It is the essential gas on the earth for plants to help in the process of photosynthesis.
  • Solid CO2 is known as dry ice.
  • Carbon dioxide has an SP hybridisation and linear molecular geometry.

Health effects of Carbon

Some simple carbon compounds are highly toxic, for example, Carbon monoxide and cyanide.

  1. Chronic inhalation causes permanent damage to the lungs.
  2. Pneumoconiosis is a disease found in workers who are working in the production of carbon black.
  3. Carbon monoxide produced from the burning of plastic can cause cancer.

Uses of carbon

  • Charcoal (from wood) and coke (from coal) are used in metal smelting.
  • They are used in petrochemical industries in the production of polymers.
  • Activated charcoal is used in the purification.
  • Carbon fibres are used in rockets, fishing rods etc.


  • Carbon is an element with atomic number 6 and the symbol C
  • Most of the carbon compounds are poor conductors of electricity
  • Carbon has three primary allotropes: Diamond, graphite and fullerene.
  • Two main oxides of carbon are carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.
  • Toxic gases like carbon monoxide are produced due to the incomplete combustion of fuels.
  • Carbon has various uses in different forms like activated charcoal, coal, diamond etc.