Gem of a concept

Published: Monday 15 September 2003

Keeping a close watch Conflict diamonds (precious stones used to finance clashes aimed at undermining legitimate governments) may soon go out of business. Belgian scientists have devised a method to ascertain the mine from which each diamond is sourced. The development comes as a shot in the arm for those campaigning against illegal trade in diamonds (see: "Damage control", March 31, 2003). The money from illicit diamond trade has financed many civil wars in Africa.

The technology involves using a laser beam to drill a small hole into a diamond. This obtains the diamond's unique chemical image, which is then matched with the specific chemical composition of the source mine. Corinna Gilfillen of non-governmental organisation Global Witness lauded the development, pointing that "it could be a useful tool in tracking the origin of conflict stones". Before they are able to trace such diamonds, scientists will, however, need to graph all of the world's existing mines -- a process that could take very long indeed.

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