Diamonds

Diamonds are made of which element?

And the answer: Carbon.

Photo credit: Koichi Yajima/Getty Images.

Most natural diamonds are formed over millions of years, when carbon is exposed to very high pressure deep in the Earth's mantle. But not all of the diamonds that are found on Earth originated here. Primitive interstellar meteorites have been found to contain diamonds as well.

Miles and miles below our Earth's surface, the elements that comprise life above ground begin to look a little, well, different. Between the Earth's crust and its superheated core is its mantle – a region so hot and pressurized that the molecular structure of elements themselves are altered. Carbon's atoms are crushed together into a new, lattice-like structure. It is in these extreme conditions that carbon becomes diamond.

So how, then, do diamonds appear on our Earth's surface? While there are a number of ways to procure this brilliant gemstone, scientists believe that ancient volcanic eruptions were the force that transported diamonds to accessible depths. Back when the Earth was much hotter, very deep-seated volcanic eruptions carried the already-formed diamonds from the upper mantle to the surface of the Earth. At the surface, the eruption built up a mound of volcanic material that eventually cooled to become what we now call Kimberlites. Kimberlites are typically the source of many of the world's mined diamonds.

Recent technology has innovated a way to create diamonds far above the Earth's mantle. Today, with the help of science, diamonds can be grown in a laboratory. The first synthetic diamonds were created in 1955 by General Electric: scientists attempted to replicate the high pressure, high temperature conditions of the Earth's mantle to force carbon into a diamond's crystalline structure. While successful, the technique was nowhere near the real deal. It wasn't until the '70s that the process was refined to create near identical replicas of any Earthen creation.  

Check out the video below to learn more about the creation of diamonds.


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