Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Laser tag

Since the Leonardo diCaprio film, and to a lesser extent Naomi Campbell's bizarre turn as a star witness in the Charles Taylor trial, many people have now heard of blood diamonds. Put simply, they are diamonds from war-torn regions which are used to finance military groups and perpetuate the violence. Often they are collected using what's essentially slave labour in concentration camp conditions. They're a bad thing. It's not just diamonds, though. Other gemstones and mineral resources are similarly exploited for nefarious ends.

The diamond trade has attempted to address the issue as best it can, tracing origins of stones where possible. Prohibiting sources of dubious nature and implementing national embargoes where necessary. It's worked, to some extent, but any help is welcome. The high-profile link to such misery does nothing to help business, after all. So - the developing ability to determine a stone's source locality is good news. In National Geographic this month is an article on a Texan company, Materialytics, who fire a laser at a stone and read the spectrum of light produced to get a locality-specific result. They can be 95% certain of where a diamond came from, for example - the mine, not just the country. They're still in the process of building their database, but this has the potential to be an effective weapon in the war on... well... war? Sort of.

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