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Researchers Decipher Origin of a Diamond

Science File

Chemical 'fingerprint' helps locate the mine, a breakthrough in the fight on illegal sales.

July 26, 2003|From Reuters

Belgian researchers have found a way to determine the origin of a diamond, a breakthrough that could help fight the illegal sale of precious stones from war zones.

Researchers from the University of Ghent and Belgium's Diamond High Council were able to figure out the chemical "fingerprint" of a diamond after making a tiny hole in it with a laser beam.

The print helps them identify the mine from which it came because each precious stone has a chemical composition specific to an individual mine.

Rebel groups in such countries as Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo have used so-called blood diamonds to finance wars. About 70 countries that produce diamonds have agreed to curb the trade and have a Thursday deadline to meet monitoring requirements or face a trading ban.

The Diamond High Council, based in the world's largest diamond distribution center of Antwerp, said in a statement that the researchers would need years to get a global picture because they had to analyze samples from every operational mine in the world.

So far they have analyzed diamonds from Russia, Botswana, South Africa and Canada.

To complicate matters, many diamonds are often found in riverbeds, hundreds of miles from where they originated.

Last month, the U.N. Security Council decided to drop diamond sanctions put on Sierra Leone in July 2000. The ban on exports of the gem from Liberia remains.

The council said that the research results will be published soon in the Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry.

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