The Carbon Atom

Illustration of the carbon atom
Bohr Illustration of the Carbon Atom. Photo: Photo by dacurrier on Pixabay

Carbon Element Overview

If you watched Star Trek, in one episode, the Nomad, the robot that referred to humans as carbon-based lifeforms, and for good reason. Because that’s what we are! 

Virtually every organic compound on Earth contains carbon. Life as we know it would not exist without carbon. That’s because it has a unique ability to bond with itself and other elements fairly easily, due to its need to find more electrons to bond with.

Carbon is the sixth element in the periodic table with the chemical symbol C and an atomic number of six. It has two electrons in its inner shell and four electrons in its outer shell (valence shell) as shown in the Bohr illustration above.

Because the carbon atom has a natural desire to fulfill its outer shell with eight electrons or saying it another way, it needs to fill up its outer energy level, it will constantly look to bond with other atoms to obtain four more electrons. Once bonded, the atom’s outer shell is fully stable. Carbon atoms can form bonds with other carbon atoms, but they can also form bonds with almost all other elements. 

Carbon can exist in multiple different forms known as allotropes: graphite, diamond, and others. It’s also a non-metal, but one of the most important elements on earth. Carbon atoms have many uses, from making steel to fueling cars.

This article explores almost everything you wanted to know about carbon atoms and their various forms.

Types (Allotropes) of Carbon Molecules


Graphite showing a pencil
Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

Graphite is an allotrope of carbon. It’s a black and soft mineral that is commonly found in nature in the form of pencils. Although graphite is often treated as a mineral, it’s more commonly considered a form of carbon. Graphite is very soft and can be easily compressed into a very thin sheet.

Graphite is made of layered sheets of carbon atoms that form stacks known as graphene. Each layer is made of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal pattern with strong covalent bonds. These layers are held together by weak intermolecular forces that are easily broken by heat. That’s why pencils can be erased by rubbing graphite and paper together!

The Diamond

The diamond is another allotrope of carbon. The only difference between the two is that diamonds are made of carbon atoms arranged in a cubic pattern. This makes diamonds a hard and rigid substance. 

Diamonds are also made of graphene sheets that are held together by strong covalent bonds. These properties make this mineral extremely valuable, but they’re also highly limited in supply. That’s why they’re one of the most expensive materials on earth. 

It’s estimated that only 0.1% of the carbon that enters the earth’s surface is converted into a diamond. This is large because diamonds are formed at very high pressures beneath the earth. 

When carbon deposits are subjected to a combination of very high temperatures and pressure, they can change to diamonds. It may take a long time before the carbon is changed into a diamond, but it will change. It all depends upon the temperature and amount of pressure that is put on it. We can’t find a better demonstration than when Superman crushed coal (a product of carbon) simulating the creation of a diamond. 

Carbon Bonds

The covalent bonds that can form carbon can result in many different types of molecules. Carbon can form thousands of bonds with other elements. This is why carbon has so many uses in the world.


Fullerenes are carbon molecules that are composed of many rings of carbon. They were accidentally discovered in 1985 by two scientists who were studying carbon soot. The discovery was so exciting that the scientists won a Nobel Prize for their discovery!

C 60 – the most common carbon molecule – has 60 carbon atoms arranged in a spherical pattern. This sphere can be thought of as a football because the name “fullerene” comes from two English words: football and carbon.

C 60 is known as a buckyball and can be used as a tool for scientists. Yes, that’s what it’s called. Buckyballs are carbon atoms that are bonded to three other carbon atoms. Scientists can use buckyballs to study the structure of other molecules.

Why is There So Much Carbon in the World?

Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe. Carbon is created in the interiors of stars and then released into the universe when those stars expire. It is present in the earth’s crust in the form of minerals and organic compounds. C 60, the largest buckyball, is only possible at a pressure of 100 gigapascals – the type of pressure that’s found inside giant planets. (A pascal is a unit of pressure. Gigapasclal is that unit of pressure x 1 billion).

Diatomic Carbon

Diatomic carbon is the simplest form of carbon. It contains two carbon atoms with one double bond between the atoms. A double bond is where an atom shares its valence electrons with two other atoms, in contrast to a covalent bond created by lighting and oxygen in the air, but it is usually destroyed by other compounds in the atmosphere.

This is important because diatomic carbon is a greenhouse gas. Carbon atoms are released into the atmosphere when plants are burned. These atoms are then oxidized by the other compounds in the air to create more diatomic carbon. Diatomic carbon is one of the most important greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is precisely why it was released in the first place!


Carbon is the element that forms the molecules for all known forms of life on earth. It’s the only element that can form molecules with a ratio of electrons to protons that’s necessary for biology.

Carbon is not a metal. Metals are largely defined by their electrical conductivity. Carbon is a non-metal and does not conduct an electrical current.

Illustration of an extraterrestrial

Carbon is also very common in the universe and can form multiple different types of bonds with other elements, so when Noman called humans carbon-based life forms, because of its abundance in the universe, maybe he met other carbon life forms in the galaxy we just don’t know about yet!


What is Star Link?

Star Link Rocket Lifting Off
Elon Musk’s Star Link Rocket Lifting Off. Photo by SpaceX-Imagery on Pixabay

Elon Musk has always been known for his eccentric ideas and they are often so far-reaching and innovative that people don’t believe he’ll follow through on them—at least not in the way he does. 

When Elon Musk announced Starlink, it was just more of the same. It sounded like another quirky idea, but this time with a twist. Some people even dismissed it as a PR stunt, and others thought there was no way it could succeed given the current limitations of space technology.

 Now that we know more about Starlink and its development, it seems they were all wrong…again. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about Elon Musk’s Starlink project, how it became a reality, and what it means for space exploration moving forward.

What is Starlink?

Starlink refers to the development of thousands of satellites that are being put into low-Earth orbit as a way to provide internet and communications services across the globe. 

This system will be made up of small satellites that will be used to bypass internet issues and other problems that plague both developed and developing countries. The project was first announced in 2016 and, since then, SpaceX has been creating what it calls “the most sophisticated and largest new commercial satellite constellation in history.”

As of 2019, the company has created over 2,000 satellites, with plans to launch 16,000 more in the coming years. The network will be made up of 80 satellites in low Earth orbit, 12,000 satellites in mid-Earth orbit, and 1,800 satellites in geostationary orbit

The low-Earth orbit satellites will help to provide internet access to remote areas while the mid-Earth satellites will deliver high-speed broadband to urban areas. The geostationary satellites will help to bridge the two networks together.

How Does Starlink Work?

Planning and implementing the Starlink network started in 2016, with the first test satellites launched in 2017. However, a Falcon 9 rocket explosion at Cape Canaveral put that mission on hold, causing delays to the development of Starlink. 

A second launch was scheduled for February 2018, but once again, the mission was put on hold due to inclement weather. The third launch occurred in March 2019, and the rest of the satellites were sent out at regular intervals to complete the network. 

Once the network is fully operational, it will be capable of providing internet access to billions of people across the globe. 

Why is Starlink Important?

The internet has become a fundamental part of modern life. It is used for everything from staying in touch with friends and family to researching information, finding new hobbies, managing finances, and even procuring employment, not to mention the vast array of political aspects. 

If you don’t have internet access, you are essentially cut off from the world, but this is a reality, particularly in the developing world. In places like Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America, many don’t have Internet access. That’s about two-thirds of the world’s population. Unfortunately, this isn’t a problem that can be fixed by simply installing more internet cables. The issue is that there aren’t enough satellites in orbit to provide the coverage needed.

The Problems With the Current System

Communications satellites are designed to orbit at 22369.37 miles above the surface of the Earth, with the International Space Station orbiting at just 248.5 miles above the planet’s surface. 

This means that the satellites are out of reach for most people on the ground. Therefore, if someone wants to use a satellite for anything, they need to be connected to a nearby ground station. 

There are around 1,800 ground stations currently in operation around the world, but they can’t cover the entire planet. As a result, there are large parts of Africa and South America that don’t have any access to satellites. Even within these areas, coverage is patchy at best. 

If you look at a map of satellite coverage in South America, you’ll notice that many places are completely blacked out. This is because there needs to be a clear line of sight between the ground station and the satellite. If a mountain or a building gets in the way, it will completely block the signal. So even if you have a satellite available, it may not be able to provide you with a decent internet connection.

Will People Use It?

It is estimated that SpaceX will have to deal with around 700,000 pieces of space debris when they finally launch all the satellites. But despite this, the company has already sold $1 billion in services to two unnamed customers and is expected to launch thousands of satellites in the coming years. 

This is a good sign, particularly since the two customers have remained anonymous until now. While it is impossible to know for sure if people will use the network once it is launched, we can take a look at similar projects in the past to get an idea of the potential for success. For example, Inmarsat, a British satellite telecommunications company, launched a network of satellites in the late ’80s. At the time, the idea of being able to communicate with each other from the middle of the ocean seemed like science fiction. However, the system was so successful that it has been used ever since. The company has over 19 million subscribers and a market capitalization of $14 billion. It has become so successful that it is now “a world-leading provider of global mobile services.”


Starlink is a huge project that will see thousands of satellites put into low-Earth orbit as a way to provide internet and communications services across the globe. Elon Musk introduced the project in 2016 and since then his company has been developing what they call “the most sophisticated and largest new commercial satellite constellation in history.” There are still challenges that need to be overcome, particularly in terms of dealing with space debris. But if everything goes to plan, this will be the start of a new era in the way we access the internet.


How is Steel Made? The Process Explained

Steel Columns and beams of 1 World Trade Center
Steel columns and beams of One World Trade Center Under Construction. 3/5/2010. Photo: © SMS

Walk down any city construction site and you’re bound to see a network of steel beams and columns rising from the ground. Why are they using steel? Because steel is strong, durable, and easy to work with. It is the iron alloy of choice for building construction. 

If you’re wondering how steel is manufactured, wonder no more! In this blog post, we’ll explain the process from start to finish. 

History of Steel

The emergence of steel can be traced back to the Iron Age when it is used to make swords.  History experts say that the original creators of steel were the Hittites, a middle-eastern civilization that existed during the Bronze Age and later into the Iron age, between 1400 and 1200 B.C. in what is now Syria and Turkey. They learned that by heating iron with carbon, a stronger metallic substance could be made.

Illustration of blacksmith forging steel
Image by Lutz Krüger from Pixabay

Historians are not exactly sure what happened to the Hittites, but the consensus is that they most likely morphed into the Neo-Assyrian Empire (912 to 612 BC).

It has also been discovered that China had first worked with steel around 403–221 BC. and the Han dynasty (202 BBC—AD220) melted wrought iron with cast iron, producing a steel composite.

Modern Day Uses

With the advent of the railroad construction boom in the 19th century and its ongoing requirement for metal to make the tracks, a supply issue was materializing. The process was slow and tedious since there wasn’t any automatic process to fill the need.

Enter the Steel Mill

Steel mills provided the raw materials for many of the world’s most important products. Since the first mill opened in the early 1800s, they were constantly improved and adapted to meet the needs of the times.

Bethlehem Steel producing 6" guns
6″ guns are being produced by Bethlehem Steel. Photo: Wikimedia Public Domain, circa 1905

These manufacturing plants have helped build skyscrapers, bridges, and countless other structures. They have also been instrumental in the development of new technologies, solving railway construction issues to assembly lines for other products.

There was no time more profitable for the steel mill than during the industrial revolution which began in the nineteenth century and up to the mid-twentieth century.

And there wasn’t a company more notable to achieve the country’s manufacturing demand than Bethlehem Steel, which provided the product for 125 years starting in 1887.

How Steel is Made

Steel does not grow out of thin air. It begins with the mining of iron ore, which then has to be combined with the element carbon via a blast furnace. Let’s get ma more involved in understanding how this process works.

Mining the Iron Mineral

It all begins with the mining of iron ore. An ore represents a mineral from here a valuable asset can be extracted.

Once it is taken out from the quarry, the ore is melted and purified  (removing impurities from the ore and leaving only the metal). This is done in a blast furnace.

Enter Carbon

Carbon is an element in the Periodic Table that has an atomic number of six, with four electrons in its outer shell and two electrons in its inner shell.

Atoms that have less than eight electrons in their outer shell, (called the valence shell) tend to look for other atoms to bond with so that their outer shells can stabilize the atom by balancing the shell to eight electrons. This is based on the Octet Rule.

Illustration of the carbon atom
Bohr Illustration of the Carbon Atom. Photo: Photo by dacurrier on Pixabay

Iron has eight electrons in its valence shell, so if you bond the carbon atom that has six valence electrons with the iron atom, you have a molecule of two different atoms which forms steel.

It is essential to ensure that the correct amount of carbon is used with iron, approximately 0.04% so that the resultant product is that of steel.

If the wrong amount of carbon is mixed with iron, a different product will be produced such as cast iron or wrought iron – both of these are not efficient to render steel.

When is Carbon Added to Iron?

For steel, the combination of the two elements is done while the iron metal is liquid hot, which then alters the iron’s properties to change to that of steel.

Steel subsequently becomes an alloy (a metal made by combining two or more metallic elements) of iron and carbon.  This causes a distortion of the crystalline lattice structure of iron and subsequently enhances the metal’s strength; specifically, it increases the metal’s tension and compression properties. 

The Manufacturing Process

Rows of steel pipes
Roll of galvanized steel sheet at metalworking factory. Photo: iStock

A breakthrough for manufacturing steel via an automated process materialized in 1856 when Henry Bessemer found a way to manufacture steel quickly. Bessemer’s steel production process is what inspired the Industrial Revolution

It was the first cost-efficient industrial process for the large-scale production of steel from molten pig iron, by taking out impurities from pig iron using an air blast. 

Adding Carbon Produces a Variety of Iron Alloys

As previously mentioned, when mixed with carbon, the iron’s characteristics will be changed, allowing a variety of different types of metal alloys to be created. It all depends upon the amount of carbon that is added to it. Let’s take a look.

Wrought Iron

Wrought iron fence. Palermo Italy
Wrought iron fence. Palermo Italy.
Photo: © SMS

Wrought iron is softer than cast iron and contains less than 0.1 percent carbon and 1 or 2 percent slag.

It was an advancement over bronze and began to replace bronze in Asia Minor by the 2nd century BC. Because iron was far more plentiful as a natural resource, wrought iron was used for a wide variety of implements as well as weapons and armor. 

Cast Iron

Cast iron buildings NYC
Cast iron buildings, Lower Manhattan. Photo: © SMS

Cast iron is an alloy of iron that contains 2 to 4 percent carbon, along with smaller amounts of other elements, such as silicon, manganese, and minor traces of sulfur and phosphorus. These minerals are nonmetallic and are referenced in the industry as slag. Cast iron can be easily molded into a desired shape, known as casting. and has been used to make decorative fences and other aesthetic forms.

Cast iron facades were invented in America in the mid-1800s and were produced quickly, requiring much less time and resources than stone or brick. They were also very efficient for decorative purposes, as the same molds were used for many buildings and a broken piece could be quickly remolded. Because iron is powerful, large windows were utilized, allowing a lot of light into buildings and high ceilings that required only columns for support.


Steel is an alloy made from iron that usually contains several tenths of a percent of carbon, which increases its strength and durability over the other forms of iron, especially in tensile strength.

Strictly speaking, steel is just another kind of iron alloy, but has a much lower carbon content than cast iron, and about as much carbon (or sometimes slightly more) than working iron, with other metals, frequently added to give it additional properties. 

Most of the steel produced today is called carbon steel, or simple carbon, although it can contain metals other than iron and carbon, like silicon and manganese. 

Stainless Steel

The steel alloys mentioned above have carbon integrated within them, but stainless steel uses chromium as its alloying element. The result is that each produces a very different result when it comes to corrosion resistance. Stainless steel is much more corrosion-resistant.

Galvanized Steel

Besides incorporating the general benefits of steel, galvanized steel has an added strength of corrosion resistance, by integrating a zinc-iron coating. The zinc protects the metal as it provides a barrier to corrosive elements in the enviornment.


The advantages of steel are numerous, from great tensile and compression strength to the speed of manufacturing to low cost, it is the metal of choice in construction when compared to iron.

 Although iron and steel appear to be similar, they are two distinct materials that have specific characteristics and qualities. Iron is a pure mineral and steel is an alloy material that contains a percentage of carbon.  Depending on the amount of carbon mixed with iron, different products emerge, and this includes creation of steel. 

Steel is a far stronger material and there is no better metal at this time that is used when strength and cost are major factors.