My 10-year Wedding Anniversary is coming up so I thought I'd make my wife something special. A few months back I'd seen a show on TV where they demonstrated how companies were now making "cultured" diamonds in the lab. There are a few different methods, but the simplest is something called "chemical vapor distillation". The process is pretty straightforward. Basically, microwaves are used to create a slurry of graphite plasma which, when rapidly cooled form a crystal structure.
I checked around on the internet and found several sites where others have been doing the same thing. The best part was that everything I'd need were pretty common household items. So, I rounded up the necessary supplies and began imagining how great life would be once I'd cornered the international diamond market.
Step 1: Materials
Here's the surprisingly short list of materials I used:
A standard home microwave oven
2 coffee mugs
3 pieces of 3mm graphite pencil lead
A few drops of extra virgin olive oil
A 5" piece of 100% cotton thread
The hardest item to find was the 100% cotton thread. It's amazing how scarce that stuff is. After searching through all of our sewing notions, I finally found some black thread that I think my mom bought back in the 70's.
Step 2: Prepare the Olive Oil
As I mentioned above, the theory behind this project is using microwaves to heat the graphite into a plasma. In general, pencil graphite is not reactive enough to microwaves. So, a thin oil is used to concentrate the heat in a specific area of the graphite. Also, as the oil heats up and begins to burn, it chemically separates the binder in the pencil lead from the graphite.
Place a few drops of olive oil onto a plate and lay the thread in the oil. The thread will absorb some of the oil.