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The carbon group is a periodic table group consisting of carbon (C), silicon (Si), germanium (Ge), tin (Sn), lead (Pb), and ununquadium (Uuq).
In modern IUPAC notation, it is called Group 14. In the old IUPAC and CAS systems, it was called Group IVB and Group IVA, respectively. In the field of semiconductor physics, it is still universally called Group IV. The group was once also known as the tetrels (from Greek tetra, four), stemming from the Roman numeral IV in the group names, or (not coincidentally) from the fact that these elements have four valence electrons (see below).
Like other groups, the members of this family show patterns in its electron configuration, especially the outermost shells resulting in trends in chemical behavior:
Each of the elements in this group has 4 electrons in its outer energy level. The last orbital of all these elements is the p2 orbital. In most cases, the elements share their electrons. The tendency to lose electrons increases as the size of the atom increases, as it does with increasing atomic number. Carbon alone forms negative ions, in the form of carbide (C4−) ions. Silicon and germanium, both metalloids, each can form +4 ions. Tin and lead both are metals while ununquadium is a synthetic short-lived radioactive metal. Tin and lead are both capable of forming +2 ions.
Except for germanium and ununquadium, all of these elements are familiar in daily life either as the pure element or in the form of compounds. However, except for silicon, none of these elements are particularly plentiful in the Earth’s crust. Carbon forms a very large variety of compounds, in both the plant and animal kingdoms. Silicon and silicate minerals are fundamental components of the Earth’s crust; silica (silicon dioxide) is sand.
Tin and lead, although with very low abundances in the crust, are nevertheless common in everyday life. They occur in highly concentrated mineral deposits, can be obtained easily in the metallic state from those minerals, and are useful as metals and as alloys in many applications. Germanium, on the other hand, forms few characteristic minerals and is most commonly found only in small concentrations in association with the mineral zinc blende and in coals. Although germanium is indeed one of the rarer elements, it assumed importance upon recognition of its properties as a semiconductor.
Carbon, tin, and lead, are a few of the elements well known in the ancient world - together with sulfur, iron, copper, mercury, silver, and gold.
Carbon as an element was discovered by the first human to handle charcoal from his fire. Modern carbon chemistry dates from the development of coals, petroleum, and natural gas as fuels and from the elucidation of synthetic organic chemistry, both substantially developed since the 1800s.
Amorphous elemental silicon was first obtained pure in 1824 by the Swedish chemist Jöns Jacob Berzelius; impure silicon had already been obtained in 1811. Crystalline elemental silicon was not prepared until 1854, when it was obtained as a product of electrolysis. In the form of rock crystal, however, silicon was familiar to the predynastic Egyptians, who used it for beads and small vases; to the early Chinese; and probably to many others of the ancients. The manufacture of glass containing silica was carried out both by the Egyptians — at least as early as 1500 BCE — and by the Phoenicians. Certainly, many of the naturally occurring compounds called silicates were used in various kinds of mortar for construction of dwellings by the earliest people.
Germanium is one of three elements the existence of which was predicted in 1871 by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev when he first devised his periodic table. Not until 1886, however, was germanium identified as one of the elements in a newly found mineral.
The origins of tin seem to be lost in history. It appears that bronzes, which are alloys of copper and tin, were used by prehistoric man some time before the pure metal was isolated. Bronzes were common in early Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, Egypt, Crete, Israel, and Peru. Much of the tin used by the early Mediterranean peoples apparently came from the Scilly Isles and Cornwall in the British Isles, where mining of the metal dates from about 300–200 BCE. Tin mines were operating in both the Inca and Aztec areas of South and Central America before the Spanish conquest.
Lead is mentioned often in early Biblical accounts. The Babylonians used the metal as plates on which to record inscriptions. The Romans used it for tablets, water pipes, coins, and even cooking utensils; indeed, as a result of the last use, lead poisoning was recognized in the time of Augustus Caesar. The compound known as white lead was apparently prepared as a decorative pigment at least as early as 200 BCE. Modern developments date to the exploitation in the late 1700s of deposits in the Missouri–Kansas–Oklahoma area in the United States.