How Was Carbon Discovered?

Carbon was first discovered in prehistoric times as charcoal. It became recognized as an element in the 17th century, after Robert Boyle classified an element as a substance that could not be decomposed into simpler substances.

Carbon was named by French scientist Antoine Lavoisier as he carried out a variety of experiments to reveal its properties. In one of his experiments, Lavoisier used a magnifying glass to focus the sun's rays on a diamond and saw the diamond burn and disappear. He noticed the diamond combined with oxygen to form carbon dioxide which led him to conclude that diamond and charcoal were both made from carbon.

In 1770, Carl Wilhelm Scheele showed that graphite also burned to form carbon dioxide and thereby discovered another form of carbon. Yet another form of carbon, fullerene, was discovered in 1985 by Robert Curl, Harry Kroto and Richard Smalley. Fullerene was also called "buckminsterfullerene," because its molecules resembled the geodesic domes designed by architect Buckminster Fuller for the 1967 World's Fair. The most recently discovered form of carbon is graphene, which consists of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in hexagons. Graphene was discovered in 2004 by Kostya Novoselov and Andre Geim, who used adhesive tape to detach a single layer of atoms from graphite to produce this form of carbon.