What is a Candle Flame Made Up Of? Millions of Real Diamonds, Of Course!
By on August 18th, 2011

This is why ignorance is often regarded as a great source of bliss. Scientists have discovered the presence of real diamonds in a candle flame. Here’s the part which will hurt a lot you’ll not be able to procure any for sale. After centuries of wondering what candle flames are made up of, it seems that they are richer than imagined by anyone literally.

Diamonds Galore!!

Gem of a find

It’s indeed poetic justice that a Chinese chemistry professor, Prof. Wuzong Zhou, from the University of St. Andrews would uncover this sparkling secret. After all, candles were invented in China more than 2000 years ago.

Prof. Zhou developed a new sampling technique along with his student, Mr. Zixue Su, which can sample particles from the center of a candle flame. This has never been attempted before. Spectroscopic studies revealed the composition of the samples and it was found that all four allotropic forms of carbon diamond, graphite, soot and fullerenic forms of carbon – were present.

Prof. Zhou innocently reveals his motivation for looking inside a candle flame:

A colleague at another university said to me: Of course no-one knows what a candle flame is actually made of.  I told him I believed science could explain everything eventually, so I decided to find out.

Burning Diamonds

Diamond particles are created as an intermediate between hydrocarbon molecules at the base of the flame and the carbon-dioxide and water at the top of the flame. Diamond gets burned in the center. The production rate is also impressive Prof. Zhou counted more than 1.5 million diamond nanoparticles per second in a flame. So, a candle burns by burning up lots of diamonds!

Michael Faraday’s comment in his lectures The Chemical History of a Candlein 1860 seems prophetic now:

You have the glittering beauty of gold and silver, and the still higher lustre of jewels, like the ruby and diamond; but none of these rival the brilliancy and beauty of flame. What diamond can shine like flame?

This is a glittering find. Feel rich just by thinking of the fact that you can afford to light a candle you’re literally burning up millions of diamonds!

 

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Author: Debjyoti Bardhan Google Profile for Debjyoti Bardhan
Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.

Debjyoti Bardhan has written and can be contacted at debjyoti@techie-buzz.com.
  • Narayan Rana

    That’s really exciting to know!!
    But I have a confusion:
    Diamond is formed under high pressure & temperature from hydrocarbon. But here, what is the reason of creation of such a high-energetic intermediate state?

    • Debjyoti Bardhan

      Honestly, this is the exact question which has been bothering me. I don’t know the answer to this, but I would guess that creating diamond nanoparticles and not crystals wouldn’t need a lot of energy. And diamond is not an intermediate stage as far as chemical stability goes. It is a stable state in itself.

 
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