Diamonds are Forever

I seem to recall Shirley Bassey sang these words over the credits of one of Sean Connery’s poorer outings as Bond, Jamesh Bond.

Putting aside the thorny question as to whether any matter is truly eternal, scientists have discovered that diamonds are for rather less of forever than advertised.  It would seem that when exposed to ultraviolet light – as provided, for example, by the sun or many a nightclub  – a diamond (which is, after all, just an upmarket form of soot) starts shedding the carbon atoms of which it is comprised.  (To avoid any later compliance issues, I should make clear that as a middle-aged British man writing in the month of July, my recent experience of the sun is limited and of a nightclub, non-existent.)

Before you rush to cover any diamond jewellery, or panic that gemstones may not be the safe haven they at first appeared in these days of financial turbulence, I should stress that this loss of substance is really quite modest.  Under a UV lamp, your typical diamond might lose one microgram (or 2 hundred-thousandths of a carat) over the course of 10 billion years (assuming the bulb in your UV lamp lasted that long, and you were willing to wait).

Carbon is famous for its use in dating and, in the form of diamond, is often used if the dating proves particularly successful.  This led me to muse on relationships in the atomic world…

The proton is a free spirit: it loves the single-life and is always positive.  Despite a thorough search, physicists have yet to see a lone proton falling apart (though they seem pretty sure they must decay eventually).  The neutron on the other hand won’t last 10 minutes unless locked into a relationship.  Curiously, once hitched to a bunch of other protons and neutrons in a nucleus, our freedom loving proton is then liable to decay – gaining weight while its positivity flies off and is soon annihilated by a passing electron.

Yes, I can even use quantum theory to justify my living of la vie individuelle!  Next week, fashion tips from the theory of Special Relativity…

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