How to Become a Diamond

At one point on this blog, I came to the inevitable conclusion that the best form of afterlife is as a fossil. I’ve obviously given much thought to the eventual disintegration of my physical form, and I somehow find comfort in knowing that my fossilized remains will return to the geologic cycle to wreak all sorts of shenanigans in the millennia to come. But as infallible as this reasoning may seem, I have been forced to concede defeat to a superior alternative. I would like to present you with version 2.0 – How to Become a Diamond. To give credit where credit is due, the idea was sparked by a recent link on one of my favorite science blogs – Scientia and Veritas.

You see, while every geologist dreams of transforming themselves and their loved ones into diamonds, there are two fundamental barriers: heat and pressure. Diamonds are formed in the Earth’s mantle, the layer that underlies the rocky outer crust. Imagine a peach, where the skin represents the crust, the fruit itself – the mantle, and the pit – the core. 150 km (90 mi) below the Earth’s surface, we reach temperatures upwards of 1050 C (2000 F). The high sustained pressures and temperatures allow the growth of large crystals (although the following clip from the movie The Core might be an overexaggeration). Kimberlite pipes are ancient conduits from the mantle to the Earth’s surface. The magma from deep within the mantle has long ago hardened into rock, which serves as the fodder for most of the world’s diamond mines today. Key point – they don’t actually look pretty until they’re cut, so don’t go to the mantle for an engagement ring.

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kimberliteA lake has formed over time within this partially mined kimberlite pipe in South Africa

Moral of the story? Even though, fundamentally, both my cells and diamond crystals are both made from carbon, I can’t transform into a diamond without recreating the proper conditions. No heat or pressure – no diamond. Or so I mistakenly believed. Enter Algordanza. With locations in more than twenty countries, Algordanza is a funeral home service that allows you to turn your loved one’s (or your own) ashes into diamonds for a mere 5,000 to 20,000 dollars. While it has been said that diamonds are forever, Rinaldo Willy, the company’s founder and CEO, prefers the term ‘unzerbrechlich’, meaning ‘indestructible’ in German. About 80% of memorial diamonds are worn as rings or jewellery.

The process is simple. After cremation, carbon is extracted from the ashes and converted into graphite, the same material that comprises pencil lead. A machine replicates the high pressure and temperature conditions of the mantle and produces diamonds within a span of several weeks to a few months. Once cut, the diamonds are generally one carat in size and range in color depending on the chemical composition of the person in question. Most of the diamonds are blue due to trace amounts of boron in the human body, although shades vary from clear to almost black. A statement on the company’s website explains that “there are no two identical stones as there are also no two equal human beings” – a thought at once poetic and scientifically accurate.

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Be warned: you may have just sustained a lethal dose of mostly harmless science

If you enjoyed this article, please comment below and share with your friends! I’d love for you to follow me on WordPress or on Twitter @harmlessscience (just click Follow on the right sidebar). Thanks for reading!

Cover/end photo courtesy of Judy van der Velden, Flickr Creative Commons. Kimberlite photo from Oxford University. Earth cross-section from Wikimedia Commons.

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10 responses to “How to Become a Diamond

  1. Not sure if I want to be a diamond, but the idea of becoming a fossil is appealing. My previous wishes were to be spread over the places I love and of course to plant one tree. Thanks for the great post.

    • I like a combination of the two. I’d want to be a diamond that was then buried in one of my favourite places. Although, granted, by that point I won’t have much of a say in the matter. Thanks for reading!

  2. Pingback: How to Become a Diamond | Ms. Geshke's Science Hub·

  3. Alan, well done, you beat me to this one. I had been looking at Algordanza and making of diamonds just before I left Scotland! I have been in hiatus for a month while preparing to move back. However I’m finally home now so I’ll kickstart again with another post shortly.

  4. all the time i used to read smaller articles
    which as well clear their motive, and that is also
    happening with this paragraph which I am reading at this time.

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