Throughout history, people have devised elaborate ways to memorialize the dead: the pyramids of Egypt, Europe’s Gothic mausoleums, the Taj Mahal in India. What some mourners consider meaningful, others would call macabre. In 19th-century Europe and America, “death photography” produced portraits of the departed in lifelike poses; in the Tibetan Buddhist rite known as sky burial or bya gtor (alms for the birds), earthly remains are set out to feed vultures.
Notions about honouring the dead are shaped by many factors—culture, tradition, geography, religion. But the notion is one thing, and the execution is another. In every era, it’s the available technology that determines our range of memorial options.
The intersections of death and technology have long been busy crossroads. In these early years of the 21st century, they’re getting really interesting. Because I write about science and technology for a living, I’ve lingered at these intersections, observing the innovations: digital memorials on social media, eco-friendly green burial options, even interactive tombstones.
Among the tech-savvy options for modern decedents, one stands out because it’s so genuinely weird. Thanks to startling advances in industrial engineering, we can now synthetically re-create colossal geological forces to shape our ultimate destiny on this planet. It’s gratuitous and extreme and wonderful: We can turn our mortal remains into diamonds. Real diamonds.
Several companies worldwide now offer services to families that have the notion, and the resources, to memorialize their loved ones in arguably the most permanent way possible. The Swiss company Algordanza is one of them.
Using high-tech heavy-industry machines, engineers can transform the carbon from human ashes into diamond gems that are physically and chemically identical to natural diamonds. The geologic process that otherwise takes hundreds of millions of years can now be managed in weeks.
It works like this: After the cremation, the bereaved family ships one pound of ashes to Algordanza’s laboratory in Switzerland. Scientists process the ashes to extract the pure carbon elements and remove other impurities. (The remaining ashes are shipped back.) From there, Algordanza uses the same tools Mother Nature uses to make diamonds: heat and pressure.
In the next step, the carbon ashes are converted into graphite, a stable allotrope of carbon in which the atoms are packed into tight, flat sheets. Then the carbon settles down for a long bake inside Algordanza’s high-pressure, high-temperature (HPHT) machines. Temperatures rise as high as about 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. For comparison, consider that cast iron melts at about 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Then there’s the pressure. Within the HPHT machine, a system of cubic presses exerts a force of 870,000 pounds per square inch on the graphite, gradually changing the molecular structure and transforming the carbon into pure diamond.
To be clear, these diamonds aren’t just similar to a natural diamond; they are identical down to the atomic level. The gem that emerges can be kept in its rough state or cut and polished by Algordanza’s specialists.
The entire operation—from initial receipt of ashes to final delivery of the diamond—typically takes five to eight months. The company processes approximately 1,000 memorial diamonds a year and has representatives in 34 countries.
Algordanza offers packages with prices starting at about $3,000, says Christina Martoia, its U.S. representative. About that pricing—perhaps it’s impolite to ask, but we all want to know, right?
For more information contact Managing Director, Kevin Foy.
Source – National Geographic