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Why is carbon an important element?

Graphite, a form of carbonGraphite, a form of carbonOne of the most important chemical elements is carbon. This is because it is the main element in all living things. Unlike most elements, pure carbon can exist in different forms. These include both the soft, black, slippery, graphite, used as “lead” in pencils, and diamond, the hardest substance of all. Carbon even has its own branch of science, known as organic chemistry.

Rough, uncut diamondsRough, uncut diamonds

A DNA molecule, made up of carbon and other atomsA DNA molecule, made up of carbon and other atoms

Carbon-based substances

Atoms of carbon can bond easily with each other or with atoms of many other elements. Thousands of different substances, from wood to plastics, contain carbon. Atoms of carbon easily join with oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen. The many substances they form go to make up what every living thing—plants and all animals, including humans—are made of. 

Carbon forms more compounds than any other element. Nearly 10 million are known.

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