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Chemistry LibreTexts

4.1: 3D and 2D Representations

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  • To extend our discussion to the wider world of what we might call heterogenous molecules, that is, molecules made up of atoms of more than one element, we will begin with carbon. Why carbon? Well, here are some reasons. Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe (~3,032 atoms per million), after hydrogen (~705,700 atoms per million), helium (~275,200 atoms per million), and oxygen (~5,920 atoms per million). Carbon is distinguished from most other elements in its ability to form a vast array of diverse compounds by bonding with itself and other elements with bonds that are not too strong and not too weak. Under the conditions that persist on the surface of the Earth carbon compounds are stable enough to hang around but not stable enough to persist forever, so they are not dead ends. Carbon is a key building block of the major molecules of life: proteins, nucleic acids, lipids, and carbohydrates. We are carbon-based life forms! Carbon compounds are also used in a wide range of synthetic materials, such as pharmaceuticals, polymers, and high-tech materials; we also consume a lot of carbon compounds by burning them for fuel.

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