This week I participated in an event, which is regularly organised by the Science Faculty at Stockholm University, and which can be translated as the living question box.
What is this living question box, or levande frågelåda (in Swedish)? I’ll explain. School kids aged 12-13 from around Stockholm send their science questions to researchers, and about 1200 school kids can then attend the two-day event at Stockholm University, where researchers answer these questions in front of all the kids. Usually one of my colleagues participates in this event, but since he was not available last Thursday I jumped in. The questions I had to answer were “which are the oldest fossils that had been discovered” and “how do diamonds, rubies and sapphires form”? Being a geologist, I should know the answers, although none of these questions come close to what I have been doing for the last 30 years. Although, I must admit that the diamond question, provoked long ago memories of an exam question, which I had got for my mineralogy exam, probably in 1977 or 1978: describe the formation of diamonds! And here I am, more than 30 years later, answering the same question … there seems to be no escape!
One of my fellow colleagues on stage last Thursday said: this is the closest we scientists can come to being famous. Who else would applaud us so much, as these children? And sure they did! First when we were introduced and came on stage, and then after each question had been answered. What a great audience they were, these more than 1000 school children, sitting in Aula Magna during one hour. And, how many more questions they had after the main questions had been answered. I am sure we could have gone on for another hour, although their attention would probably then have been strained a bit too much.
One question I could not answer was, how large and heavy is the biggest diamond ever found. Embarrassing! I should really know this.
So which are the largest diamonds ever found? One of these is the KOH-I-NOOR (I knew this!), which weighed 186 carats when it was found in the year 1304. But an even larger diamond is the Cullinan I, which weighs 530.20 carats. The Excelsior originally weighed 995.2 carats, but was cut into ten pieces; then we have the Orloff diamond, which weighs 194 carats; the Great Mogul, which was weighing 793 carats as rough stone; the Idols Eye diamond, which polished weighs 70.20 carats; the Sefadu discovered in 1970 in Sierra Leone weighs 620 carats as uncut stone; the Centenary from South Africa, weighing 599.10 carats in rough form, but 273.85 carats after having been cut; the Premier Rose with 352.9 carats, which was cut into three pieces; the Regent weighed 410 carats originally and 140.50 carats as a cut piece; the Blue Hope, the Sancy and the Taylor-Burton are other large diamonds. And finally how does carat translate into milligrams? One carat is equal to 200 mg, so the largest diamond, the Excelsior, would have weighed 199040 mg or 0.19904 kg. Now the next step would be to calculate how much organic material/carbon would be needed to make such a large diamond.
The final question was whether we humans will survive in the long run? My answer was that if we continue polluting our water, our air, our food and our environment, we will likely not have big survival chances. But, I forgot to say that we humans also have the capability of genetic engineering, which may at least help some genetically-modified humans to even survive the worst.
It would be fun to participate in this event again next year! Great audience, smart questions, and curious kids.