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Laser analysis betrays diamonds' origins

Technique could be used to identify conflict gemstones

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7:04pm, October 14, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — To the naked eye, a diamond dug up in peaceful Australia is often indistinguishable from a diamond dug up to finance civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But a new means of interrogation with lasers reveals fingerprints that can trace the gems’ origins.

In a small-scale pilot study, a laser probe identified which of eight countries a diamond came from with 95 percent certainty. It did an even better job with emeralds, rubies and other gems, as well as with gold and some kinds of ore.

“With enough data, we could identify which country, which mining region, even the individual mine a mineral comes from,” says Catherine McManus, director of research at Materialytics Inc. in Killeen, Texas, who presented her team’s research October 10 at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting.

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