Don't Try This at Home
from the book, "Petrified Lightning"

Petrified Lightning

Don't Try This at Home

Diamonds will burn. This important, or at least interesting, information should restrain impetuous, inquisitive people who might otherwise consider burning their diamonds to find out for sure.

That diamonds will burn if properly ignited has long been known, but no scientists knew just why. Most people simply could not imagine that a mineral so hard and that looked so much like glass (which everyone realized would melt but not burn) could be consumed by fire. So in 1797 an English chemist named Smithson Tennant allowed his curiosity to get the best of him. He just had to know what diamonds were made of, so he borrowed his wife's largest diamonds and put them to the test by burning them. Tennant carefully collected the gas given off by the burning diamonds and chemically analyzed these fumes. He found that they were carbon dioxide.

Tennant's analysis proved that despite the diamond's glassy appearance it is nothing more than a crystalline form of almost pure carbon—the same common material of which coal, graphite, charcoal, and other combustible materials are made. Tennant had made a great discovery, but his wife was more than slightly provoked that he proved the chemical constituents of diamond at her expense. So she left him.