Who Discovered Carbon?
Posted In: Chemical Elements.
Carbon is a very important element that is found in many forms, making up every known living thing, along with forms known as graphite and diamond. It makes up a majority of mass in the human body, second only to oxygen. Every living thing, while made of carbon, also uses carbon as fuel. This is because carbon is the backbone of carbohydrates, fatty acids and amino acids that make up proteins.
Known to exist a long time ago
Carbon has been known to exist since early human history, mostly in the forms of soot and graphite, with diamonds being discovered about four thousand years ago. When considering the different forms of carbon, it is quite interesting to note that carbon can be opaque like graphite, clear like diamonds, or in the form of any number of living organisms. These previously mentioned forms of carbon are so different, both visually and elementally that it should come as no surprise that it took a few centuries for scientists to realize that they were all comprised of the same element.
Who discovered it?
So, when considering the question of who actually discovered carbon, the answer would be a definitive “don’t know”. It was known to exist, but was not considered an element until the mid eighteenth century when several people elucidated carbon’s different properties, thus sharing in the discovery of carbon’s assets, truly discovering it as an element.
René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur
For example, in 1722, a scientist named René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur showed how to make steel by combining iron and carbon. Probably, given that discoveries made, but not recorded don’t seem to count. Then Antoine Lavoisier, the father of chemistry, as he is known, would be the “discoverer” of carbon since he classified it as an element in a textbook he wrote in 1789. He classified carbon as such because in 1772, he discovered that diamonds were a form of carbon. Later in history, it was discovered that synthetic carbon had the ability to be made into different types of plastics when mixed with nitrogen and oxygen.
Lavoisier gets the credit
So, as is true with most discoveries, the discovery of carbon can’t be attributed to one individual, since many people, over a long period of time discovered different forms of carbon, as well as its different properties. Lavoisier gets the credit, however, since he declared it an element and published information about carbon in his textbook. The adage, “publish or perish” truly does apply to the situation surrounding the discovery, or discoveries, of carbon.