Image of two allotropes of carbon: diamond and graphite, respectively.  The difference in their crystal structures controls their properties, hence why diamonds and graphite exhibit different physical properties. 

Facts about Carbon:

  • Carbon: Carbon is a solid that is transparent as diamond and black as graphite. Diamond is hard and has low conductivity; however, graphite is soft and is a good conductor. 
  • Fun fact about Carbon: Carbon appears in different forms, such as soot, coal, graphite, and diamond. It also is the main element of life, making up about 18% of the human body!
  • Chemical symbol: C
  • Atomic number: 6

A crystal structure containing Carbon:

Crystal structure of a steroid hormone, cortisol.  The carbon and hydrogen atoms are displayed as purple and blue spheres respectively.

Facts about this structure:

  • Formula: C21 H30 O5
  • Structure name: 11β,17α,21-Trihydroxy-pregn-4-ene-3,20-dione
  • Fun fact about the structure: Cortisol is released during times of stress to prepare for the fight-or-flight response. It also performs other bodily functions, such as regulating blood pressure and reducing inflammation.
  • CSD refcode: CORTSL (What's this?)
  • Associated publication: E.E.Castellano, P.Main, E.Westbrook, Acta Crystallographica,Section B:Struct.Crystallogr.Cryst.Chem.,  1980, 36, 3063, DOI:  10.1107/S0567740880010801

More info:

Carbon is the sixth most abundant element, with three naturally occurring isotopes.  Carbon-14 is a radioactive isotope that is found in all living tissues.  Because of this, by measuring the amount of carbon-14 present in an object, the age can be determined.  Carbon is also found in carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.  Carbon dioxide is a molecule that is absorbed by plants in photosynthesis and, as a solid, is also known as "dry ice", which is known best as an example of sublimation.  Carbon monoxide is a poisonous, colorless, and odorless gas that kills by binding itself to hemoglobin and suffocating tissues.  Carbon is such a crucial part of life that there is an entire field of chemistry, organic chemistry, dedicated to the study of carbon and carbon-containing compounds, structures, and their reactions. 

More info about the International Year of the Periodic Table (IYPT) in crystals project:

This project (#IYPTCrystals) is part of the International Year of the Periodic Table celebration (#IYPT2019), read more about the project here. You can follow us on social media using #IYPTCrystals and learn more about the wonders of crystals by following the CCDC on Twitter @ccdc_cambridge on Facebook ccdc.cambridge, on Instagram ccdc_cambridge or on YouTube CCDCCambridge.

If you want to find out more about some of the terms and concepts we have a Frequently Asked Questions Page.

A visualisation showing the structure containing Carbon alongside other structures published in the same scientific article: