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Turning Peanut Butter into Diamond: A Sciency Cinderella Story

April 18, 2013 Astrophysics
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Photo by iStockphoto.com

Photo from iStockphoto.com

It’s the day most women look forward to – above graduation, or scoring that big promotion – the day that special person gets down on one knee, before presenting you with a satin box. Contained within the small box are all of your hopes and dreams for the future – wrapped up in a metallic band with a big, shiny rock atop. The rock – generally called a diamond – usually costs a ridiculous amount of money (even affordable diamonds can cost more than it would take to feed a family from a third world country for an entire year). For some, the costliness is part of the appeal, but let me shatter that notion for you. Did you know that diamond is actually a somewhat common substance (it literally falls from the skies on Neptune and Uranus) – one that can actually be created using peanut butter?   I know,  I know. It may sound kind of outrageous (or downright ridiculous even), but it’s true.

 

Granted, if you were able to manufacture one through this process in the comfort of your own home, it probably wouldn’t look nearly as beautiful as a typical diamond would – the kind that is formed naturally over several millions of years, by merely exposing carbon to intense heat and immense pressures – but peanut butter diamonds are still diamonds, albeit less shiny ones (beggars can’t be choosers, after all).

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Surprise! JIF on a ring! (Credit: Science Soup)

 

How, you may ask? First, like many materials found on Earth, peanuts contain high concentrations of carbon – the main building block of diamond. In a lab, scientists isolate the peanuts then subject them  to temperatures exceeding 2,000°F (1,093°C), before hiking up the pressure exponentially – eventually exerting 61 tonnes of force per square centimeter. After which, the material is squeezed between two other diamonds (to simulate the strength of the natural substance, which happens to be the strongest known to man) – in what is referred to as  the “stiletto heel effect.”

 

At this point, the carbon bonds of the peanut butter break down, before they reform – producing an artificial diamond, with a greenish or yellow-tinge hue.   Peanut butter isn’t the only strange thing scientists have been able to turn into a precious substance. They have been able to turn oxygen into red crystals as well. Several companies even specialize in turning cremated ashes into artificial diamond, where it is then encased in sterling silver – allowing you to carry a piece of your departed loved one with you in the form of a ring or necklace.

 

It’ll cost you big time though. Still.. the sentiment is nice – almost as awesome as it would be to tell your grandchildren that their grandparent proposed with a glorified peanut. (I kid!)

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