Friday, February 10, 2017

Element of the Month: Carbon!

February's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 12.011 amu
Melting Point: none
Sublimation Point: 3642 °C

Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier had a resume longer than the Seine. He named and determined the nature of Oxygen and Hydrogen, established the conservation of mass, brought quantitative rigor to the study of Chemistry, and chaired the panel that devised the system of measurement used by 95% of all humans today! He devised one of the first systematic list of elements, and was able to use it predicatively to anticipate the discovery of Silicon. On that list were two substances that he was the first to claim elemental status for. One of these was Sulfur. The other was February's Element of the Month: Carbon! For these and his many other accomplishments, the Revolutionary French Republic honored him by having him guillotined in 1794, and then pardoning him the following year.

Carbon is of course best known as the active agent in carbon paper, a crucial business tool in the years leading up to the advent of inexpensive photocopying. Use of carbon paper allowed a skilled clerical worker to produce documents and forms in triplicate or even quadruplicate with astonishing efficiency, while enabling lesser skilled workers to produce sheet after sheet of illegible smudges while ruining their dress clothes. Interestingly, carbon is still used in the "toner" that a modern photocopy machine applies to blank paper in order to duplicate documents, using a process that involves the electrostatic charging of photoconductive material, surprisingly precise application of heat and pressure, and powerful dark magicks.

The Centerfold!
You will sometimes see older references from 2016 or earlier that refer to a compound called "Carbon Dioxide," a molecule which was said to combine one atom of Carbon and two of Oxygen. This compound was thought to be important to the respiration of most terrestrial life -- animals breathe it out, in layman's terms, and plants breathe it in. It was also thought to have a significant role in the thermal regulation of the atmosphere; because it was not transparent to long-wave infrared radiation emitted by the warm planetary surface, it captured energy that would otherwise have just radiated off into space and retained it  closer to home, in the form of atmospheric heat. However, this physical phenomenon was recently disallowed in the United States by Executive fiat.

Carbon is widely believed to have additional applications in Biochemistry, but these too are expected to be subjected to scrutiny by top scientists in the new American administration, on the grounds that "you can't prove that there are molecules -- after all, have you ever seen a molecule?  Have you?"

It is, you have to admit, a compelling argument.

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