World-Class Canadian Lab Pioneers New Ways of Dating Diamonds and Pinpointing High-Grade Deposits

Representing a huge leap forward in the study of diamonds, the University of Alberta unveiled a world-class lab that has the capability of dating individual precious stones and identifying high-grade deposits far below the earth’s surface.

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The 3,500-square-foot Arctic Resources Geochemistry Laboratory is one of the largest and best-equipped diamond labs in the world. Among its $6 million worth of instruments are six mass spectrometers and laser systems that analyze a diamond’s grade and potential richness of a deposit.

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During last week’s lab unveiling, professor Graham Pearson demonstrated to the press how he could split a diamond with a laser and then analyze its age by sampling its core and outer edges. According to Pearson, there is some evidence that the age difference between the center and edge of a diamond could be a billion years.

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“Diamonds are very scarce even when you’re sitting on top of a diamond pipe,” Pearson told the Edmonton Sun. “So we look at and date-indicator minerals, which are far more abundant than the diamonds themselves. We can analyze the minerals and figure out how old the [diamonds] are.”

“It is one thing to find diamonds and another to find diamonds viable to mine,” Pearson continued. “It is like gold: one fleck does not equal a mine.”

Pearson, who came to Edmonton from the U.K. three years ago to oversee the design and construction of the lab, emphasized how important it is for Canada, a resource-based economy, to be able to push forward and develop new frontiers of finding new resources.

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“Canada is the third-largest producer of diamonds in the world,” Pearson said. “We’d like to think we can help sustain that.”

Credited with pioneering the first technique for dating individual diamonds, Pearson is also intrigued with the purely scientific aspect of studying diamonds. “They are unique capsules of the deep earth,” he said. “They provide you with unique snapshots of parts of the earth you could never get at.”

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