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Carbon Uses in Everyday Life: Lesson for Kids

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  • 0:02 Abundant and Useful
  • 0:51 Carbon, Naturally
  • 2:25 Artifical Carbon
  • 3:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Nick Rogers
Expert Contributor
Dawn Mills

Dawn has taught chemistry and forensic courses at the college level for 9 years. She has a PhD in Chemistry and is an author of peer reviewed publications in chemistry.

Carbon is the fundamental basis for all life on Earth. It's also used in many ways you may not have realized! Learn about many of the fascinating ways we use carbon in our everyday lives.

Abundant and Useful

We've known about carbon since ancient times. It occurs in plant life and all living things. Whenever a fire is burned, the black soot that's produced is a form of carbon. In fact, its name comes from this; the Latin word for charcoal is carbo. Today, there are many carbon products you may be familiar with, which include petroleum (in other words, gasoline) and plastics. Whenever we fill our cars with gas, we're pumping them full of carbon!

All organic, or living, things on Earth are made of carbon. Your organs, cells, and internal systems all depend on carbon to exist. Carbon has a unique structure that helps it to bond easily with other atoms and make up larger complicated molecules. This structure helps it play a fundamental role in all life on Earth.

Carbon, Naturally

There are three main types of pure carbon that occur naturally, and they make up a majority of the carbon that we interact with every day: amorphous carbon, graphite, and diamonds. The only difference between these three compounds chemically is their crystal structure!

Diamonds are probably the best known form of carbon, but you may have not have realized that they're made of the same stuff as firewood! The only difference between a brick of charcoal and a diamond is the internal organization of its carbon molecules (and its price tag!). Diamonds are one of the hardest substances known to man, and they're used for special purpose drill bits as well as wedding rings.

Amorphous carbon has no crystal structure. It's formed when carbon is burned, but there isn't enough oxygen present to burn completely. Sometimes we call this form carbon black or lampblack, due to its dark black color. It's used to create inks and paints and is also occasionally used in the insides of batteries.

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Additional Activities

Carbon

You have learned the many uses of carbon and the presence of carbon in our everyday lives. For example, carbon is in materials such as diamonds as well as in our pencils. However, it's also important to realize that we each leave behind a carbon footprint due to our daily activities and even from breathing (we release carbon dioxide as we breathe). In order to determine your carbon footprint, answer the questions below.

Questions

1. Do you leave the lights on in a room after leaving?

2. Does your household recycle?

3. Does your family carpool or use bicycles, buses or alternative methods for traveling/commuting each day?

4. Does your household buy new products, clothes or decor or does your household mainly buy used goods and materials?

5. Does your household use renewable energy?

Discussion

Leaving electricity on when no one is home, using excess hot water or heat, as well as consistently buying new goods and materials can increase ones carbon footprint. Recycling, commuting via bicycles or carpools, buying used goods, and using renewable energy are a couple of ways to reduce the carbon footprint.

Additional Questions

1. What are some ways you can reduce your carbon footprint?

2. What activities contribute most to your carbon footprint? (Example: leaving on lights in a room)

3. Which activities contribute the least to your carbon footprint? (Example: recycling)

4. Recall that in addition to leaving a carbon footprint, there are many uses of carbon in our everyday lives. Find five objects around your house that contain carbon. Make note of their differences and similarities.

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