While scientists sometimes conceptualize electrons spinning around an atom's nucleus in a defined shell, they actually fly around the nucleus at various distances; this view of the carbon atom can be seen here in two electron cloud figures (bottom), showing the electrons in a single blob (the so-called s-orbital) and in a two-lobed blob or cloud (the p-orbital). It can link to itself, forming long, resilient chains called polymers.It can also bond with up to four other atoms because of its electron arrangement.Under very hot temperatures — greater than 100,000,000 Kelvin (179,999,540.6 F) — the helium nuclei begin to fuse, first as pairs into unstable 4-proton beryllium nuclei, and eventually, as enough beryllium nuclei blink into existence, into a beryllium plus a helium.The end result: Atoms with six protons and six neutrons — carbon.Carbon has four empty spaces in its outer shell, enabling it to bond to four other atoms.(It can also bond stably to fewer atoms by forming double and triple bonds.) In other words, carbon has options.A 2010 paper in the journal Nano Letters reports the invention of flexible, conductive textiles dipped in a carbon nanotube "ink" that could be used to store energy, perhaps paving the way for wearable batteries, solar cells and other electronics.
This molecule turned out to be a soccer-ball-shaped sphere made of 60 carbon atoms.
And it uses them: Nearly 10 million carbon compounds have been discovered, and scientists estimate that carbon is the keystone for 95 percent of known compounds, according to the website Chemistry Explained.
Carbon's incredible ability to bond with many other elements is a major reason that it is crucial to almost all life. The element was known to prehistoric humans in the form of charcoal.
In fact, the same element that our prehistoric ancestors burned as charcoal may be the key to next-generation tech materials.
In 1985, Rick Smalley and Robert Curl of Rice University in Texas and their colleagues discovered a new form of carbon.
Atoms are arranged as a nucleus surrounded by an electron cloud, with electrons zinging around at different distances from the nucleus.