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And it uses them: Nearly 10 million carbon compounds have been discovered, and scientists estimate that carbon is the keystone for 95 percent of known compounds, according to the website Chemistry Explained.
Carbon's incredible ability to bond with many other elements is a major reason that it is crucial to almost all life. The element was known to prehistoric humans in the form of charcoal.
Arrange carbon atoms in one way, and they become soft, pliable graphite. — the atoms form diamond, one of the hardest materials in the world.
Carbon is also the key ingredient for most life on Earth; the pigment that made the first tattoos; and the basis for technological marvels such as graphene, which is a material stronger than steel and more flexible than rubber.
Atoms are arranged as a nucleus surrounded by an electron cloud, with electrons zinging around at different distances from the nucleus.
(It can also bond stably to fewer atoms by forming double and triple bonds.) In other words, carbon has options.
Carbon has two electron shells, with the first holding two electrons and the second holding four out of a possible eight spaces.