Thursday, July 31, 2008
In the Beginning...Diamonds
(Come on, you had to know it was only a matter time before I wrote a post about something sparkly!)
We've all heard the theory that life on Earth sprang out of some strange primordial soup, some swampy mixture of chemicals that just happened to have what it takes to spontaneously spring to life. But scientists have so far been unable to explain just what it was about that early ooze that made it so special and, well, lively. New research from German scientists Andrei Sommer, Dan Zhu, and Hans-Joerg Fecht (Dibs on using that last one to name future children!) presents an interesting answer.
It appears that, billions of years ago, the surface of natural diamonds may have been just the right place for life to grow. Diamonds are crystallized forms of carbon and are older than Earth's oldest life forms. In laboratory experiments, the scientists showed that after treatment with hydrogen, natural diamond forms crystalline layers of water on its surface, essential for the development of life, and involved in electrical conductivity. When primitive molecules landed on the surface of these hydrogenated diamonds in the atmosphere of early Earth, the resulting reaction would have been sufficient to generate more complex organic molecules that eventually gave rise to life.
This post also gives me a great excuse to look at photos of diamonds online : ).