UWP collaborates with Smithsonian to study diamonds

April 10, 2006

2006_04_10b.jpgPLATTEVILLE - Once again, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville is working on a project with the Smithsonian Institution's National Gem Collection. Last year, UWP professor of chemistry, Jim Hamilton, went to the museum to clean the Hope Diamond with a substance he developed for hard-to-clean and delicate surfaces. This year, Hamilton and his upper level chemistry students will begin to work on a detailed analysis of exactly why diamonds glow different colors in the dark.

Diamonds naturally come in a variety of colors ranging from pink to blue to red (the rarest), Hamilton explained. "The Hope Diamond is blue because it has trace amounts of the element boron in it," Hamilton said, "yet after shining ultraviolet light on it, it glows a rich deep red for many seconds. It's magnificent." UWP students will study the different colors that natural diamonds give off after first measuring the colors they absorb in room light.

After the Hope Diamond experience, Hamilton and Jeffrey E. Post, a UWP alumnus and curator of the National Gem and Mineral Collection at the Smithsonian, sought ways to systematically study diamonds' luminescence behavior and relation to chemical impurities and/or defects. Post proposed sending diamonds to UWP and having Hamilton and his students begin a study and compiling data of their findings Post wrote, "With your expertise and instrumentation in spectroscopy, and diamonds I can loan from the Smithsonian, we have a unique opportunity to begin an investigation of luminescence from diamonds." Post visited the campus in October 2004 and said he was impressed by the equipment and feasibilities available in the labs of the chemistry department. In spring 2005, Hamilton and senior chemistry major, Tara Fahey, began laying the groundwork to begin the project.

These techniques being used by the researchers are not new but are being done with increasing regularity as a means to track synthetic, lost or stolen diamonds, which are sometimes characterized by their spectroscopic "signature" so that even if stolen or cut up, they could, potentially, be traced to their original stone. Hamilton explained that while scientists know quite a lot about many of the details of the diamond luminescence, no systematic studies have been done to correlate this beautiful luminescence to the colors the diamonds are in room light. "Having a wide variety of diamonds with various colors is critical to the study and what better source could there be than one of the world's most extensive gem and mineral collections? We're very lucky to be collaborating," said Hamilton.

The first group of student investigators finished up their course in December, making way for the new group to begin in January. The first group seemed as intrigued about working with the instrumentation as they were about the diamonds. "We're very lucky to get to work on this kind of instrumentation. How many schools can offer this kind of experience?" said Gary Lind, a senior majoring in chemistry. "Getting to work with the equipment and learning to troubleshoot is important. When we get to a job and someone gives us the instrument and a manual and says 'go figure it out,' we'll have a lot of experience doing that," said Emily Schiefelbein, a senior also majoring in chemistry. Eventually, Hamilton hopes to study the light emitted from the Hope Diamond but acknowledges that it may be some time off, and he will probably have to take his students to Washington, D.C. "They're probably not going to send the Hope Diamond to us," he conceded.

Contact: Jim Hamilton, professor, department of chemistry, (608) 342-1670, hamiltoj@uwplatt.edu Prepared By: Evelyn Martens, UWP Public Relations, (608) 342-1194, martense@uwplatt.edu


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