Saturday 10 July 1999

Pic of the day: Well, I thought to have something about "burning bridges" here, but it proved too difficult to get a picture of that! So I have to make do with this, which is probably just as well.


They say that diamonds are forever ... Sadly, this is far from so.

Sure, diamond is the hardest mineral in the solar system. It owes its hardness to its peculiar inner structure: Diamond consists of virtually pure carbon. Each carbon atom is linked to its neighboring carbon atoms. Don't scoff at the tendency of carbon atoms to form strong bonds: This ability is what makes life possible. In our bodies, carbon eagerly links to various other common elements, chief among them oxygen, and to other carbon atoms. Long links of carbon atoms with associated other atoms make up most of the molecules of life.
When carbon atoms find themselves surrounded by other carbon atoms, they may be pressured into linking up with each other. Even so, they will normally only link in two dimension, making a flat extremely thin carbon plate. This form, graphite, is used in pencils among other uses. If you had the power, you could change your pencil into a diamond...
Under extreme heat and pressure, deep under our feet, the carbon atoms start holding hands also across the third dimension. They form the rare crystals known as diamond, or adamant. Harder than any other mineral, transparent to X-rays, but bending light more strongly than any other crystal: The diamond is as unique as it is valuable. Despite modern technology, it is not yet possible to make high-grade, gem quality diamonds. Microdiamonds for industrial use are made regularly, though.

Once bound together in the diamond, carbon atoms don't easily lose each other. Like a group of friends so tight that nothing can come between them, they have enough with each other and present a united front against the world, impervious to scratches and virtually any chemical you may apply. Even the usually preferred partner, the oxygen atom, is left to languish in bewilderment outside the clique.

But heat, as you remember from school, is movement. Micro movement. The hotter a thing is, the faster its atoms move. And at 800 degrees Celsius (that would be over 1700 degrees Fahrenheit, I think), the movement starts to shake our carbon friends apart. Once this happens, they will more than eagerly marry the waiting oxygen atoms, and are lost to the diamond forever. In a sudden blaze, the entire crystal burst into flame and disappears literally into thin air. There is nothing left, not even ash.

So don't leave your diamond at home and the stove on, people.

Furthermore, as the prophets have foretold, the Earth and the things on it is spared to the fire. But don't let this unduly influence your buying decisions: Possibly to the dismay of aspiring prophets, the end of our favorite planet is estimated to happen from 4.5 to 5 billion years into the future. (Unless we somehow manage to give a helping hand, which is outside our scope today and in the foreseeable future.)


Is there a point to all this? Let me tell you one other thing that comes to mind. In the comic book "Watchmen" there is this character Dr Manhattan. Once a gifted researcher, he was accidentally dissolved during a nuclear experiment and after a while managed to pull himself together and come back to life as some kind of superhuman. Despite the changes in him (rather obvious to the reader) he continues to try to live some kind of normal life. In one scene it is Christmas and he is with his girlfriend; he looks at a gold ring and when she asks him if he likes it, he comments on its atomic structure.


OK, I think I better stop there. Somehow it has become way past bedtime. I remember that that particular comic book series scared me, way back in 1987. Well, perhaps not scared ... no, it did. It disturbed me very deeply. At that time I used to collect my comic books in my bedroom (not that I actually use to read in bed) but these few books I put in a plastic bag in a room where I don't normally stay. I think that qualifies as "scared". Of course, it wasn't really the booklets I was afraid of. It was me.

Music of the day: Flashdance.mod, an instrumental computer music version of the old hit. I don't think I've ever seen the film, which may be why I like the music so much.

Adrift in time?
Yesterday (Yes, I believe in yesterday.)
Tomorrow (if any.)
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