Now, diamonds from body ashes

Posted on: July 23, 2008

At the end of their days, most people end up six feet under or up in flames, others get frozen or mummified. But some lucky ones are spending eternity as sparkling diamonds, thanks to a peculiar chemical transformation.

For a fee, a company called Algordanza in the eastern Swiss canton of Graubuenden offers a service to turn ashes into precious stones. Every month, it gets 40 to 50 commissions — some as far away as Japan.

Rinaldo Willy, 28, one of two co-founders of Algordanza, said the commissions come from “all kinds of people — they could be bus drivers or professors in philosophy.”

At the firm’s laboratory, about 15 machines run non-stop alongside employees wearing plastic protective glasses who work behind a yellow and black line that visitors are not allowed to cross — out of respect for the dead.

“Five hundred grams (one pound) of ashes is enough to make a diamond while a human body leaves behind on average 2.5 to three kilograms of ashes,” said Willy.

Potassium and calcium, which make up some 85 per cent of the ashes, are first separated from the carbon. The carbon is then subject to extremely high pressure and heat — 1,700 degree Celsius, a process which compresses it into graphite, a carbon allotrope or a structurally different form of carbon.

More pressure and heat are applied to the graphite to turn it into diamonds —the hardest allotrope of carbon.

The entire process takes six to eight weeks, hardly a fraction of the time it takes for the formation of natural diamonds which take thousands of years.

When the process is complete, the crude diamond still requires polishing and cutting.

Source: Hindustan Times

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July 2008

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