Alchemists never managed to turn iron into gold, but the Russian engineer Igor Petrev wins the Ig Nobel Peace Prize for developing a method for converting surplus TNT and other explosives into diamonds. Ammunition gets overproduced, and the excess must either be detonated or burned. “But you can also use it to make diamonds,” Petrev said. He explodes the ammo in “a special chamber” and in “a special way,” that produces graphite, metals, gasses and miniscule, 4-nanometer-wide diamonds. These are then extracted from the mix. Just how the separation process works is a secret that, as for now, stays in Russia. But the result is 70 grams of “nanodiamonds” for every kilogram of TNT detonated.
They’re not the kind of gems you’d wear on a necklace. According to Petrev, the diminutive carbon crystals instead have many industrial uses, such as surface polishing, modification of galvanic coatings, improvements of oils and, most promising of all, biomedical applications: Nanodiamonds are starting to be used in cancer therapy.