austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

With tangerine trees and marmalade skies

Edinburgh University's Professor Malcolm McMahon said recently it was possible to turn peanut butter into diamonds. This is more creative than anything I ever did with peanut butter, which usually was to spread it onto some bread, then to learn I had literally dozens of jelly molecules left, then discovering that all the bread I had was growing interesting new colonies, and then skipping the whole failed sandwich. When I finally remembered to buy jelly then I'd discover the peanut butter was gone, and if I got peanut butter finally the bread would be gone. I don't know where they went. Maybe the geckos in my apartment were making them into diamonds and smuggling them out of Singapore.

Dr McMahon says the way to do it is to squeeze the peanut butter between the tips of two diamonds -- lucky thing there are diamonds from non-peanut butter sources or there'd be no way to get started -- in a way that creates pressures higher than those at the center of the Earth, where peanut butter only rarely reaches. He's with the Centre for Science and Extreme Conditions, and extreme conditions seems like an understatement for conditions that turn peanut butter into diamonds.

You can see why this would work at all, since diamonds are made out of carbon, and carbon is one of the major ingredients in peanut butter, so if you can just take the non-carbon parts out of the peanut butter and squeeze down what's left, there you go. What I missed is how peanut butter got into the system. It seems like somebody didn't wash his hands after lunch.

But lucky accidents are the breath of science. We have penicillin thanks to Sir Alexander Fleming eating a chocolate sprinkle doughnut at work and not noticing loose sprinkles were in his agar. Thomas Edison would never have invented the Linotype type-setting machine if he hadn't spilled a Diet Cherry Coke all over his table one chilly morning in May 1873, and in fact he didn't. And imagine if Margaret Rhea hadn't spilled the Cheetos dust into a bubble chamber experiment that lead to the discovery of cheap, room-temperature fusion in 1982. That's a vivid imagination you have.

The next step in the research I imagine is seeing what other foods will be when they're crushed by five million atmospheres of pressure, besides being smaller. Imagine crushing an entire pizza to a tiny, olive-and-onion flavored diamond chip. Would you be able to set it in a necklace? How about a wedding ring showing off sparkling compacted Brussels sprouts? But I like Brussels sprouts, so could we make it string beans instead? What if you crushed an oak desk? What if you crushed a plastic desk with simulated wood grain finish? Would your employer be upset you didn't ask first? And where would you put your office trinkets after the desk-crushing?

There's no answers to these questions from the Centre for Science and Extreme Conditions, which is fine since the answers probably wouldn't be as good as the answers I make up for myself (making up your own answers is a fine craft; see page B-4 for how to do it). But then Reuters had the report that a company is willing to turn human remains into diamonds -- specifically, Don Rybold, who died in November 2002, is to be made into a ``small yellow diamond'' for his widow, Barbara Macknick. As far as I can tell she's skipping the stage of having him be peanut butter altogether.

All of this work in making allotropes of peanut butter is fine, but it raises the question of can they do it in reverse? It'd be a pretty sad world if we were diamond-rich and didn't have enough peanut butter left to cover one fun-size $100,000 candy bar. I hope they don't try mixing the diamonds back into peanut butter like it was yeast, though. I'm already suspicious enough of chunky peanut butter. Maybe we could restrain ourselves to only making some of the peanut butter and deceased husbands of the world into diamonds. The world needs a sensible balance.

Trivia: An unofficial British force during Britain's war with Spain in 1806-07 used the chance to conquer Buenos Aires for the United Kingdom, to the complete surprise of the government in London. Source: Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Land that Never Was, David Sinclair.

Currently Reading: The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery, Wendy Moore.


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