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Carbon has four empty spaces in its outer shell, enabling it to bond to four other atoms.(It can also bond stably to fewer atoms by forming double and triple bonds.) In other words, carbon has options. 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.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.By vaporizing graphite with lasers, the scientists created a mysterious new molecule made of pure carbon, according to the American Chemical Society.This molecule turned out to be a soccer-ball-shaped sphere made of 60 carbon atoms.
The end result: Atoms with six protons and six neutrons — carbon.Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 years, meaning that after that time, half of the carbon-14 in a sample decays away, according to the University of Arizona.Because organisms stop taking in carbon-14 after death, scientists can use carbon-14's half-life as a sort of clock to measure how long it has been since the organism died.The research team named their discovery the buckminsterfullerene after an architect who designed geodesic domes.The molecule is now more commonly known as the "buckyball." The researchers who discovered it won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996.