A Moment of Science

Synthetic Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend

Creating diamonds is a tricky business. It can be difficult to tell whether the diamond is real or synthetic.

green synthetic diamonds on a pink background

Photo: R. Tanaka (Flickr)

Are you a fan of synthetic diamonds?

Natural diamonds are so expensive partly because they are rare, hard to find, and costly to mine. For years scientists tried to make synthetic diamonds that had the same characteristics as natural diamonds, but which would be much less expensive.

The Great Search

In the early 1950′s a team of scientists at the General Electric Company were working to develop a process for manufacturing synthetic diamonds.

After a great deal of experimentation, in 1955 the team members had evidence that they had made a synthetic diamond. The evidence came in the form of a tiny diamond they found in the apparatus used for the synthesizing experiment.

That might seem like evidence enough, but scientists are skeptical by training, and the team questioned if there had been sufficient pressure in their apparatus to make a diamond.

Synthetic Diamonds

In fact, when they repeated the experiment they were unable to make another diamond because their apparatus did not produce enough pressure. Still, they were encouraged by finding the tiny diamond, and they kept working with the equipment until it did produce enough pressure, and they were able to repeatedly make synthetic diamonds.

The scientists who worked on the project continued to wonder about the first diamond they found, but were not able to confirm their suspicions until about 38 years later when much more sophisticated and accurate measuring devices became available. With this equipment they were able to analyze the 1950′s diamond, and did discover that it was real, not synthetic.

To this day they do not know how the tiny, real diamond got into the equipment, but they do know that had they not been fooled by it they might not have continued on the right track toward making synthetic diamonds.

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