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Significance of Carbon

Carbon is an element that has unique properties (exceptional ability to form bonds) that makes it essential to life on earth.

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What's the Matter?

What’s the Matter?

Credit: CT Nehls
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fingers.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

All it takes is a glance at your own hand to see that you’re made of matter. So to understand your body and how it functions, you need to start with matter. Just what is matter, and how does matter behave?

The Back Story

  • Matter consists of atoms, and atoms in turn contain smaller particles, including negatively charged electrons. The diagram below is a simple model of an atom and its component parts.

Credit: Pearson Scott Foresman
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Atom_(PSF).png
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Atomic model [Figure2]

  • How matter behaves is largely determined by the electrons in atoms. When it comes to your body, you are alive because of chemical reactions involving electrons. They explain the chemistry of life.
  • For an entertaining and unusual introduction to the chemistry of life, watch this Vsauce video:


Can You Apply It?

Learn more about matter and the chemistry of life at the link below. Then answer the questions that follow.

  1. When you touch an object, you don’t really touch it, but you can feel it. Explain this apparent contradiction.
  2. No doubt you’ve heard the expression, “You are what you eat.” Why is this literally true?
  3. Why is the human body slightly radioactive?
  4. Identify the elements whose atoms make up about 96 percent of your body mass.
  5. Carbon atoms make up about 18 percent of the body’s mass, whereas oxygen atoms make up about 65 percent of its mass. Why is carbon, rather than oxygen, the element that is considered to be synonymous with life?
  6. Fill in the blanks in the following paragraph with the correct elements of matter.

The element (a) _____ makes about 3% of body mass and is found in proteins and nucleic acids. The most common mineral in the body, found mostly in bones and teeth, is the element (b) _____. Another element found in bones and also in the molecule ATP, which cells use for energy, is (c) _____. The element (d) _____ helps regulate heartbeat and is needed for electrical signaling in nerves. Another element that is needed for electrical signaling in nerves and that also regulates the amount of water in the body is (e) _____. The metallic element (f) _____ is needed to form hemoglobin, which is the oxygen carrier in red blood cells. The element (g) _____ is needed for making thyroid hormones.

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: CT Nehls; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fingers.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Pearson Scott Foresman; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Atom_(PSF).png; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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