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Technology and Society

New inventions can have positive and negative influences on society.

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It’s Elemental

It’s Elemental

Credit: Kenneth Lu
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/toasty/2643569674/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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.
  • Credit: Cal French
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36307144@N08/3351797175/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Charcoal continues to be one of the most common forms of fuel for undeveloped rural communities [Figure2]

  • 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.

  1. What was the first human use of carbon?
  2. 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?
  3. Why could it be argued that we are still in the Iron Age?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. It could be said that the British Empire was built on iron and carbon. Why?
  7. How did the elements germanium and silicon change the world?
  8. Why is carbon responsible for the current Nanotechnological Age?
  9. Why might thorium be called the element of the future?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Kenneth Lu; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/toasty/2643569674/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Cal French; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36307144@N08/3351797175/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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