Charcoal. You use it to grill burgers and hot dogs. It’s just lumps of plain old carbon. What could be less exciting or significant?
Why It Matters
- Actually, the element carbon has had a profound effect on human history. Starting more than 6000 years ago, people have used carbon for a variety of important purposes.
- Explore this interactive timeline to learn how carbon and several other elements have literally changed the course of human history: http://www2.open.ac.uk/openlearn/periodictablephase2/elemental-economics.html
Show What You Know
At the link below, use the interactive periodic table to learn more about the elements that have changed human history. Then answer the following questions.
- What was the first human use of carbon?
- Bronze is an alloy and iron is an element, yet the Bronze Age came before the Iron Age. Why wasn’t iron used before bronze? Wouldn’t it be easier to produce a pure metal than an alloy?
- Why could it be argued that we are still in the Iron Age?
- What was the goal of the alchemists? How did alchemy lead to the discovery of the element phosphorus? Why does life depend on this element?
- What elements did Gutenberg use to make letters for his printing press? Why did he use this combination of elements? How did Gutenberg’s printing press change the world?
- It could be said that the British Empire was built on iron and carbon. Why?
- How did the elements germanium and silicon change the world?
- Why is carbon responsible for the current Nanotechnological Age?
- Why might thorium be called the element of the future?