The New Alchemists:: Breaking Through the Barriers of High Pressure

Robert M. Hazen, Author Crown Publishing Group (NY) $23 (286p) ISBN 978-0-8129-2275-2
Despite the broad scope implied in the title, Hazen ( Science Matters ) focuses on the fairly short recent history of the quest to synthesize diamonds for industrial use. The science itself is tantalizingly simple (diamonds are pure carbon and carbon is abundant), and Hazen's account covers the search for the right machine --a pressure mechanism capable of imitating simple forces found in nature. That effort has been the obsession of General Electric engineers since the 1940s. Their experiments were all variations on a theme--force acting at the molecular level. It's a theme that Hazen never makes quite tangible in this overlong chronicle that concentrates more on the lab, the weather and the personalities than on science. The production of synthetic diamonds is unquestionably a success story with a significant impact on 20th-century life and industry. Hazen notes, however, that the greater impact will be made by a new substance, buckminsterfullerine, the third carbon, discovered only three years ago. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 11/29/1993
Release date: 12/01/1993
Genre: Nonfiction
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