What is Carbon? - Facts & History Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Tawnya Eash

Tawnya has a master's degree in early childhood education and teaches all subjects at an elementary school.

Did you ever wonder what your body is made of? Sure you have skin, bones, and hair, but did you know your body is also made of carbon? In this lesson, you are going to learn about the element carbon and how it's all around you.

What Is the Element Carbon?

Can you figure out what all of these objects have in common?

Types of Carbon

Believe it or not, diamonds, gasoline, plants, and pencils are all made of carbon! Carbon is a basic element with the atomic number 6 - we'll see what this means below. An element is the most basic form of a substance created with a certain number of protons, neutrons, and electrons. There are about 120 elements that scientists are actually aware of.

Carbon is a well-known element that is referred to as ''the magic element for everything on Earth.'' Every living thing relies on carbon for some reason.

With just a few changes in its make-up, carbon can be found in all living things, and in some non-living things, too!

  • Carbon is found in plants.
    • Plants need carbon dioxide to make their own food. They get carbon dioxide from us when we exhale!
  • Carbon is found in the ground.
    • When many atoms are pushed together, after a long time it creates a diamond.
    • Dead plants and animals are what make up soil. The carbon left over after many years is used in making oil. Oil is used in gasoline.
  • Carbon is found in your lead pencils.
    • The lead is actually called graphite, which is a soft form of carbon.

Let's find out how long carbon has been around!

Carbon Throughout History

Humans have known about carbon for thousands of years. Its name comes from the Latin word 'carbo,' meaning 'coal'.

Unlike some of the other elements, it is unknown exactly who first discovered carbon. It is dated way back to prehistoric times, when people called it charcoal.

Have you ever been around a fire or seen someone use charcoal on a grill?

Image of Charcoal

Did you notice the black, dirty residue that is left over? That black soot is carbon.

In the seventeenth century, Robert Boyle figured out that carbon was an element. Others would find out it came in various forms.

Antoine Lavoisier discovered that diamonds are a type of carbon.

In 1779, Carl Wilhelm Scheele proved that graphite is also a form of carbon.

Then in 1985, a group of scientists found a new form of carbon. This new type of carbon, sometimes called buckyballs, creates very strong materials used for a variety of things.

Scientists are continually learning about carbon and its uses to help with medical advances, as well as every day life. Let's take a deeper look into what carbon is!

Facts About Carbon

Carbon is everywhere around you.

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