Carbon, the sixth most abundant element on Earth, occurs in all living organisms. Carbon and its compounds play a vital role in supplying the world with energy. Fossil fuels such as oil and coal, for example, help fuel cars and industrial equipment. Trees need carbon dioxide, a compound of carbon, to produce photosynthesis. Without carbon, life on Earth would be different than you know it.
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Look around you – carbon is everywhere. You're made partly of carbon, so is clothing, furniture, plastics and your household machines. There is carbon in the air we breathe. Diamonds and graphite are also made of carbon.
Diamonds are a naturally occurring form of carbon, but synthetic forms of diamonds also exist that are made for commercial uses, for example saw blades for cutting. Wedding and engagement rings that are made of diamonds have carbon in them. A diamond is a prime example of an item that contains carbon because it is pure carbon and nothing else.
Graphite, like diamond, is an allotrope of carbon. This means that they both come from the same element, carbon, but have different physical or chemical properties. Graphite is so soft that it will rub off if scratched. The pencils you use to write are made out of graphite. Dry lubricants and steel hardeners also contain graphite.
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A plethora of textiles contain cellulose, which contains carbon. Plants such as cotton and hemp produce cellulose, which helps maintain structure in plants. Hemp and cotton are both useful for making clothing. Silk, cashmere and wool are all animal-based examples of carbon polymers. Humans use these materials for clothing and furniture.
All life on Earth is carbon-based. Carbon is present in our muscles, bones, organs, blood and other components of living matter. Carbohydrates – compounds formed primarily of carbon and hydrogen – provide fuel for living organisms, underlie the structure of plants, animals and bacteria and are essential components of DNA and RNA, the molecular blueprints of life.