Diamonds are not all created equal. It’s why we have scales to measure carat, cut, color and clarity. Why are diamonds so different? Dr. Gary Michelfelder is ready to dig deep and find out.
Michelfelder and grad student Tyler Sundell are going to examine diamonds and their features at the User Nanoscience Research Program at the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. By comparing diamonds from the Northwest Territories in Canada and Crater Diamond State Park in Arkansas, they can see environmental and age differences in each diamond.
What Michelfelder is trying to accomplish is twofold. Not only is he trying to find a way to measure isotopic ratios in a less expensive way, he’s trying to find out how the earth has evolved over time.
How does that have to do with diamonds?
“Diamonds are the only mineral that comes directly from the Earth’s mantle, and therefore the minerals that are trapped in the diamonds are the only minerals that provide any information about the chemistry, pressure and temperature of the Earth’s mantle,” says Michelfelder. Tracking the carbon isotope values can show changes in pressure and chemical conditions of the mantle.
Michelfelder is being funded for this in an unusual way: he’s been granted access to Oak Ridge Laboratory and during that time, unlimited access to the Time of Flight Secondary Ionization Mass Spectrometer. The ToF-SIMS measures the mass of atoms to calculate isotopic ratios or abundance of an element, which is how Michelfelder became interested in the project.
Michelfelder has access to the ToF-SIMS for six days. This doesn’t seem like a long time, but it will be running 24 hours a day, taking five to seven minutes to analyze each sample. This means Michelfelder will have 1,000 or more analyses to go through when the six days are over.
Though Michelfelder specializes in nanoscience with a focus on isotopic ratios in minerals, he is stretching his comfort zone and applying his expertise to a new field.
Congratulations, and maybe you can bring back some diamonds for CNAS?