30th Jan 2013
A Diamond in the Flame
The candle was invented over 2,000 years ago in China, but for a long time no one quite understood what secrets the flames held—scientists knew that hydrocarbon molecules exist at the base of the flame, and are converted into carbon dioxide by the time they reach the top, but they didn’t understand the exact process. ‘You have the glittering beauty of gold and silver, and the still higher lustre of jewels, like the ruby and diamond,’ Michael Faraday wrote in 1860, addressing light, ‘but none of these rival the brilliancy and beauty of flame. What diamond can shine like flame?’ Well, according to research at the University of St Andrews, a flame actually shines like a diamond. Professor of Chemistry Wuzong Zhou recently discovered that a burning candle flame creates diamond nanoparticles at a rate of 1.5 million per second. Dr Zhou used a sampling technique he invented himself to remove particles from the centre of the flame, and upon analysis, he found the flame contained all four known forms of carbons. This was strange, since each of them are usually created under different conditions, but he realised this meant something amazing: the hydrocarbon molecules were being turned into tiny diamonds. The diamonds burn up in the process and are released as carbon dioxide, and there are currently no ways to extract them, but Zhou’s research could prove useful for future research into green, economic diamond production. It’s a tantalising discovery—light a candle, and you can watch millions and millions of tiny, glittering diamonds wink in and out of existence.

A Diamond in the Flame

The candle was invented over 2,000 years ago in China, but for a long time no one quite understood what secrets the flames held—scientists knew that hydrocarbon molecules exist at the base of the flame, and are converted into carbon dioxide by the time they reach the top, but they didn’t understand the exact process. ‘You have the glittering beauty of gold and silver, and the still higher lustre of jewels, like the ruby and diamond,’ Michael Faraday wrote in 1860, addressing light, ‘but none of these rival the brilliancy and beauty of flame. What diamond can shine like flame?’ Well, according to research at the University of St Andrews, a flame actually shines like a diamond. Professor of Chemistry Wuzong Zhou recently discovered that a burning candle flame creates diamond nanoparticles at a rate of 1.5 million per second. Dr Zhou used a sampling technique he invented himself to remove particles from the centre of the flame, and upon analysis, he found the flame contained all four known forms of carbons. This was strange, since each of them are usually created under different conditions, but he realised this meant something amazing: the hydrocarbon molecules were being turned into tiny diamonds. The diamonds burn up in the process and are released as carbon dioxide, and there are currently no ways to extract them, but Zhou’s research could prove useful for future research into green, economic diamond production. It’s a tantalising discovery—light a candle, and you can watch millions and millions of tiny, glittering diamonds wink in and out of existence.

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