An Alberta teenager has discovered a new way to extract diamonds that might otherwise be destroyed by current harvesting techniques.
Hamdi Ali is a 17-year-old high school student and a participant in the University of Alberta’s WISEST program, which is designed to encourage women to explore different scientific fields.
“What Hamdi discovered was pretty unique and unexpected,” Ali’s grad student mentor, Margo Regier, told CTV Edmonton.
“I didn’t really know anything about geology,” Ali added. “So it was a little disconcerting when I first saw the SELFRAG and realized I was going to be working with it.”
That machine, Ali explained, is “a high-voltage electronic disaggregation device, which sounds pretty fancy, but it just means that it destroys rocks using 200,000 volts of electricity.”
It can also harvest diamonds that would otherwise be destroyed by established extraction methods, Ali soon discovered.
To test this, Ali began by X-raying a piece of rock to show it had diamonds in it before cutting it into two halves. One was then crushed with industry standard mechanical vibrating plates, destroying the diamonds inside. For the other half, Ali used a SELFRAG machine, shooting high-voltage pulses to break down the rock.
“She found ten diamonds,” Regier said of the second method. “So what that implies is that when you use a mechanical crusher, you are actually damaging a significant number of diamonds and decreasing your total diamond yield.”
The discovery led to a presentation in front of diamond industry geologists.
“I actually presented in a theatre with a lot of people there,” Ali said. “I was nervous but it was a pretty great experience.”
Brad Jongkind, an Edmonton-based gemologist and jewelry store owner, said Ali’s discovery has the potential to “set the world on fire” in the diamond industry. The University of Alberta is also hoping that Ali’s discovery inspires other young women to pursue scientific studies.
“You don’t need to have a PhD to do good scientific research,” Regier said. “You just need to have a new idea and you need to work hard to make sure it happens.”
As for Ali, while her future is not set in stone, she’s now considering geology as an option.
“I am excited to figure out where to go from here,” she said. “I still have to finish high school.”