We burn it, we write with it, we date with it, it's apparently a girl's best friend, although there are a few guys out there too who never say no to a little bling (mentioning no names, Mr Beckham, Jay-Z…), we wipe sooty smuts from our eye while relaxing around the campfire and materials scientists have in recent years had yet another format with which to play - carbon. Water aside, it's the stuff of life. There is nothing alive on the planet that does not rely entirely for its existence on element number 6. So, is that the root of the fascination?

Life and carbon go hand in hand, we are yet to imagine beyond the realms of science fiction how any other element my concatenate sufficiently to form the necessary molecules with carbon atoms at their core. Even its next floor down neighbour, silicon, cannot manage it and although preliminary artificial intelligence may hinge on the semiconducting power of silicon, it is likely that the so-called "Singularity" or something not too far off will arrive when we can harness the computing power of carbon. That might be in the form of molecular transistors based on organic molecules and polymers or graphene-based devices.

It's uber-geeky I know, but as a young chemist, I really enjoyed piecing together those ball-and-stick model kits, creating benzene rings of carbon atoms, coronenes, fused polyaromatic systems and then as an assistant editor on one of the leading journals at the time of the advent of the buckyball was too excited for my own good that we had the first Kroto paper on our books. The paper was submitted by Roger Taylor and had Harry Kroto, Jonathan Hare and Ala Abdul-Sada as co-authors and was the first experimental evidence of a new carbon allotrope, C60, buckminsterfullerene. I don't think I had my ball-and-stick kit with me in Cambridge at the time, but I do remember sending the paper out to referees, editing it once it was accepted and (within the strict constraints of editorial policy) racing to get it into print before the rival paper in Nature from Wolfgang Krätschmer was published. Despite our best efforts, I think we were in print a week later (this is 1991, well before electronic publication and the always-connected world of modern science.

But, going back to my question, what is it about carbon. The buckyball was fascinating, a perfect three-dimension molecule of sixty carbon atoms arranged in a sphere resembling a football (soccerball to our non-UK readers). It spawned endless research papers almost every one of which was picked up by the chemistry media and the popular press. The molecule even got a mention in the UK House of Lords! Then came buckytubes, the single and multiple-walled carbon nanotubes that were fibrous cousins of the buckyballs. And, of course, most recently, graphene, a stripped back single layer form of the "lead" in your pencil, a graphite monolayer, an unravelled buckytube.

I have written countless articles about carbon during almost a quarter of a century (24 years) as a science journalist, I have read many more.
The Chemical Abstracts Service has tens of millions of compounds listed in its database containing carbon atoms. The potential of humble graphite, graphene, the brighter diamond, the bucky-ball, -tube and graphene hint at new realms of scientific discovery, even the possibility of artificial life, super-super computers and more. Is our fascination with carbon that we hope to see reflected in it our own potential for greatness, the future of technology reaching endless upwards or do we just like shiny things and smut?

David Bradley blogs at http://www.sciencebase.com and tweets @sciencebase, he is author of the popular science book "Deceived Wisdom".