From worthless pencil to priceless diamond

If you have ever read the story of the alchemist you will know that many have tried to better understand the universe and attempted to turn lead into gold. The novel idea is impossible. To turn something so worthless into a precious metal would turn the world upside down as people could turn their worthless items into priceless jewels. Yet a recent discovery says that it may be possible to turn the lead in your pencil into diamonds! Read on to find out how.

First of all, it is important to state that the lead in your pencil is not strictly lead, it is graphite. The graphite in your pencil is soft because it is made of sheets and sheets of thin graphene laid one on top of another. Graphite is made out of carbon. That is not too interesting until you learn that diamonds are also made from carbon. Now it sounds like the two materials are distant cousins but could a pencil really be turned into a diamond?

The simple answer is yes, it is just not easy. The atomic makeup of the two materials is very different and you would need to subject graphite to an incredible amount of pressure for it to turn into a diamond, around 150,000 the atmospheric pressure at Earth’s surface. Still possible though, just not easy.

A team of scientists has now found a simpler way to make diamonds. They took the sheets of graphite and put some hydrogen atoms on top. The hydron atoms bonded with the atoms on the top sheet of graphite but spread throughout the other sheets too. This new arrangement made, well, a diamond.

While it is technically close to a diamond in this state you would find it difficult to successfully propose to your significant other with one of these ugly stones. However, it does have potential in industrial uses where the strength of a diamond can be used widely.