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Diamonds Are Forever – Most of the Time!

Nancy N. Miller
OverviewProcedure for teachersStudent Resources and Materials
Grade Level
Time Alloment
four to five 45 to 50 minute class periods


“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”, “Diamonds are forever”, Diamonds are the world’s hardest substance”. All of these factoids are common cultural knowledge. But did you know what a diamond is made of? Do you remember the Superman comic that had the Man of Steel squeeze a large lump of coal in his hands and use his heat vision on the product still in his hands? He made a diamond in this strange process. So, the logical conclusion is that diamonds have something to do with carbon since that is the principle component of coal. But wait a minute, pencil lead (graphite) is pure carbon. How can both a diamond, the hardest of minerals, and graphite, one of the softest minerals be made of the exact same thing? This lesson looks at the compositions and structure of diamonds and basic mineral structures formed by the bonds in the crystal structures created by nature. The students have an extensive hands-on lab experience with crystal growth from two very different processes, all recorded on video for later analysis. They also use the internet for a short introductory lesson to crystal systems and use the Nature Video “Diamonds” to tie their knowledge back to real life.

Major corporate support is provided by Canon U.S.A., Inc. and Ford.

Subject Matter


Learning Activities

Students will be able to:
  • identify two factors which influence the formations of crystalline materials, minerals.
  • describe two very different processes used in nature for the formation of mineral crystals.
  • classify mineral crystals as belonging to one of 6 basic classes.
  • explain and identify the structure and properties of matter.
  • demonstrate the interactions of energy and matter.
  • observe and explain the physical changes which occur during changes of state.

National Science Standards copied from

Physical Science

As a result of their activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop an understanding of Properties and changes of properties in matter. In grades 5-8, students observe and measure characteristic properties, such as boiling and melting points, solubility, and simple chemical changes of pure substances, and use those properties to distinguish and separate one substance from another.

As a result of their activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop an understanding of
  • Structure of atoms
  • Structure and properties of matter
  • Chemical reactions
  • Motions and forces
  • Conservation of energy and increase in disorder
  • Interactions of energy and matter
New York State Science Standards copied from
3. Matter is made up of particles whose properties determine the observable characteristics of matter and its reactivity.

  • observe and describe properties of materials using appropriate tools.
  • describe chemical and physical changes, including changes in states of matter.
New Jersey State Science Curriculum Standards copied from

5.8:     All Students Will Gain An Understanding Of The Structure And Behavior Of Matter.

5.10:   All Students Will Gain An Understanding Of The Structure, Dynamics, And Geophysical Systems Of The Earth.

Media Components


NATURE: Diamonds

Web sites:

The Atom Builder Guide to Building a Stable Atom.
This site is a hands-on interactive inquiry approach to how atoms are formed.

See Inside a Diamond.
This site requires your prior downloading of a Chime plug-in which is available free online after contacting the distributor. It allows your students to visually mainipulate the carbon models to compare graphite’s structure to that of a diamond.

Introduction to Crystallography and Mineral Crystal Systems.
This site shows many different crystal shapes and gives a great deal of information about each.

Mineralogy 4 Kids
This site talks about minerals and crystals in general.

Amethyst Galleries' Mineral Gallery
"The First Internet Rock Shop!" You can just type in your crystal group and it will give you all the information you are looking for as well as a description of other properties.

Minerals Database
This is a comprehensive site with a searchable database of 20,000 minerals by a variety of properties.


Per Class:

  • 600 ml each of supersaturated solutions of aluminum potassium sulfate (clear solution), potassium ferricyanide ( yellow solution), copper sulfate (blue solution), Nickel sulfate (green solution) Directions for preparing the solutions are found in the Teacher Prep Section as the Solution Prep Page.
  • Aluminum foil, paper towels, marking pencils, tape, 1 clean plastic Petrie dish with cover per student.

Per Student:

Per Lab Group of 4 to 6 students : (for the Salol Lab)

  • 3 Pyrex watch glasses
  • 1 student hot plate with temperature control
  • 1 sheet of clean wax paper
  • top or bottom from a Petrie dish filled with ice cubes
  • one pair of crucible tongs
  • watch with a second hand
  • about one teaspoon of Salol (chemical name – Phenyl Salicylate)
  • ***Optional: Portable Digital Video Camera and tripod

Per Lab Group of 4 students: (for the Carbon Structures Activity)

  • Sets of Magnetix – 52 double end magnetic bars, 24 stainless steel balls
  • OR: 24 large Marshmallows (stale) and 52 toothpicks- if Magnetix/GeoMags are not available.