Over 2,000 years ago the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus suggested that all matter in the universe was made up of tiny, indivisible, solid objects he called ‘atomos’, or atoms. As the quote goes, ‘Nothing exists except atoms and space, everything else is opinion.’ These imperceptibly small units of matter are responsible for the composition of everything we touch, everyone we know, and everything we are.
What Democritus couldn’t have known, however, is that there exist particles even smaller than atoms. These sub particles, namely protons, neutrons and electrons, are the almost massless particles that make up atoms and – when arranged in a specific order – an element is formed.
An atom that contains a single proton and a single electron is hydrogen; an arrangement of eight neutrons, eight protons and eight electrons is oxygen; whereas six neutrons, six protons and six electrons make up carbon, an element we refer to as the building block of life.
In addition to forming the biological backbone of every single living organism on Earth, carbon also forms the basis for one of the most valuable and sought-after materials: the diamond. Formed deep in the Earth’s interior at high temperature and pressure, the diamond is the solid expression of carbon.
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