Hydrocarbons for Kids - hydrocarbons are molecules made of hydrogen and carbon. all living things are made of hydrocarbons.


Model of a methane molecule

Hydrocarbons are molecules made out of hydrogen atoms and carbon atoms. The simplest hydrocarbon molecule is methane, which is one carbon atom with four hydrogen atoms stuck to it.

Because both carbon and hydrogen were common in nebulae, hydrocarbon molecules are very common in space. Many of these molecules are small, like methane, but others are very big, involving hundreds of atoms. One of the interesting things about carbon is that can easily make itself into long chains of carbon atoms, so it is easy to build big molecules using carbon as a building block.

Out in space, the biggest hydrocarbon molecules are amino acids. But here on Earth, those amino acids were able to hook up with each other to make protein molecules. One protein molecule can contain hundreds of amino acids in various combinations. All living cells are made out of those protein molecules, so all living cells are made out of hydrocarbons: your body, fish, sweet potatoes, trees, cheese, seaweed. Anything that was once alive is also made of hydrocarbons, so that also includes things like oil (made out of plants that died billions of years ago), gasoline and plastic (made out of oil), rubber, wood, food, alcohol, and many medicines like antibiotics.

To find out more about organic chemistry, check out these books from Amazon.com or from your library:

Science for Kids home page
Kidipede home page

Copyright 2012-2014 Karen Carr, Portland State University. This page last updated 2014. Powered by Dewahost.
About - Contact - Privacy Policy - What do the broom and the mop say when you open the closet door?