Everyone has a favourite element. OK, perhaps not everyone, but those of us that enjoyed chemistry probably have. Back in school, my lab partner and I had a thing for francium. Group 1 metals were undeniably cool – who didn’t enjoy those days when it was time to break out the jar of sodium, or if the planets were properly aligned, potassium? Those little brown glass jars, full of oil to prevent spontaneous explosions in the store cupboard, with their dull, soft, exploding metal treats, complete with the promise of brightly colored flames and the occasional loud BANG! If they could offer so much fun, imagine that potential taken to its apogee. And radioactive to boot. Why the navies of the world weren’t working on Fr torpedos was a mystery.
Interesting though Fr might be, however, there are undeniably more useful elements out there, and one that is possibly king of them all is the subject of a highly interesting episode of In Our Time. For the uninitiated, In Our Time is a program on BBC Radio 4 that takes the form of a round table discussion, on subjects ranging from Chaucer or Hobbes to magnetism, the graviton, or the concept of negative numbers.
This week’s subject, and the topic of today’s post, was carbon , the sixth element in the periodic table and basis for all life, and most energy, on the planet we live on. An element that spans every scientific discipline, it gives us all life and, if untamed, could threaten it too. Sir Harry Kroto, one of the trio of nobel-winning chemists, is a participant, and if you have 45 minutes you might want to spare, each week’s episode can be downloaded, or you can subscribe to the podcast. So if you feel like hearing more about why carbon is as important as it is to life, the universe and everything, get on down to Radio 4 and check it out.