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Chrystallography Made It Crystal Clear...

Date Added: 8/08/2011
  Recently we met Chun Chen... We were fascinated to learn that she is doing a Ph.D in Chrystallography (Material Chemistry).

We had to Google what that meant exactly, but the more we spoke with her, the more we realised how much this girl knew about Moissanite! We could not pass up the opportunity to ask her to contribute to our blog. I'm sure you will find her as fascinating as we do!

Chun Chen is 26 years old, B.Sc (Advanced with Honours Class I), currently completing a Ph.D (research) in Chemistry.

MM: We understand you're doing a doctorate in Material Chemistry. What exactly is Material Chemistry (Crystallography)?

CC: Crystallography is a technique we strongly depend on in this field of research. It is to determine the crystal structure of a material through X-ray or neutron diffraction methods. Crystalline materials, or crystals, have a basic atomic component which is repeated through an extended network. Due to this regular pattern, one can determine the positions of the atoms and their distances to the neighbouring atoms by shining a beam of particles and investigate how they bounce off (diffract) from the atoms.
Ok, that was a really long sentence with too much technicality in it!! Let's just say it is a way of finding out what is in your material of interest and how are they arranged in space. Still too complicated?! May be compare it to taking an X-ray of your bones? Ok I give up!!

MM: What made you want to study Material Chemistry?

CC: This is probably the lamest answer you will get coming out of a Ph.D student! I like pretty, colourful and shinning things, naturally, being a girl. In material chemistry, you use a lot of metallic components which produces the wide range of colours we see in things such as gemstones. Due to the crystalline nature of these materials, we can make actual crystals that are sparkly and the diffraction patterns and the crystal structures make very pretty pictures! *grins*

Seriously, materials chemistry has vast industrial applications, therefore, by understanding the chemical nature and properties of these materials is essential in furthering their application potentials. For instance, part of my research is to study this class of materials called Metal-Organic-Frameworks that can store hydrogen gas as an alternative energy source for the future. Very futuristic and environmentally friendly (proving that I still have some sort of conscience).

MM: How did you find out about Moissanite?

CC: A friend of my in school introduced it to me during a random chat of jewellery buying. Yes, we don't talk about chemistry during lunch, we talk about shopping, and preferably about sparkly things.

MM: Why did you choose Moissanite? Did your crystallography knowledge help you to decide?

CC: I was extremely excited about this Moissanite as a diamond replacement idea at first and still am! It definitely helped that I have knowledge of what it is when I searched for it on the internet. If anyone can appreciate a good crystal, it is us material chemists and crystallographers. And that is what Moissanite means to us, a beautiful and very stable crystal.

From here onward, you'll hear a lot of over-enthusiastic and crazy comments and thoughts. Be Prepared!!

I'm sure people who purchase Moissanite already know that it is highly comparable to diamonds. Imagine that you are replacing every second carbon in the diamond (pure carbon) structure with a silicon atom, voila, you have your Moissanite. So instead of raving about the radiance, hardness and ridiculously cheap price that we already know about, I'll tell you why it is better than diamonds in many other ways people don't know!

First, it is tougher than diamonds, diamonds are the hardest substance on earth, however, it is brittle and easily chipped along fault lines. You might scratch your Moissanite against a diamond, but you can break a diamond with Moissanite!

Moissanite is much rarer than diamonds in nature, as they were only found in meteorites and in tiny quantities in some diamond deposits. Now just imagine how special your engagement ring would be if you had naturally occurring Moissanite! You can show off your ring by saying, "And I got my stone from the Canyon Diablo meteorite!"

Seen the movie Blood Diamond? Would you turn those poor little African children into cold-blooded child soldiers, or to fund the illegal trade of firearms and civil wars? Then don't buy a diamond! Ok, that is just blackmailing, I shall not judge other peoples' decisions.

Just one more and I'll stop babbling. Diamonds will decompose to graphite in air at ~ 700 °C and will melt at high pressure, while Moissanite will not melt under pressure and decomposes at 2700 °C. If you ever leave your diamond ring at home and under some tragically unfortunate circumstances that the house caught on fire (which happens a lot in Australia with bushfires), your diamond will not survive but the Moissanite will, as flame temperature can reach above 1000 °C in a common house fire!

I think understanding these properties of Moissanite really makes me appreciate it for what it is.

MM: Would you recommend Moissanite to your friends?

CC: I've been trying to convince most of my chemist friends to have Moissanite instead of Diamonds, so of course I'd recommend it to ANYONE! I believe that people have their doubts because diamonds have been embedded in our culture for almost as long as civilisation itself, while Moissanite were only discovered 30 years ago and became commercially available in the last 10 years. The more we expose Moissanite to society, the faster they'll become accepted and recognised, and it is a process that I'll happily be a part of.

Thanks so much for your contribution Chun!