Wondering whether science can quell a threat to peace, the White House held a diamond summit last week to discuss how scientists might help identify gemstones that are fueling conflicts in Africa.
Diamonds fund rebel forces in Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where armies have conscripted children into combat and subjected them to torture. These so-called conflict diamonds represent an estimated 4% of all diamonds sold annually; government officials and activists hope that by keeping them off the market, they can keep guns out of the hands of insurgents. Most conflict diamonds are mined from easily accessible, hard-to-police alluvial surface mines. Once the gems enter the trade, their origins are difficult to discern. Researchers say spectroscopic and physical analyses might yield a unique signature that identifies a stone's origins, but the methods are untested and likely to be expensive, time consuming, and sometimes destructive to the jewels.
To advance the science of diamond identification, a conflict diamond working group led by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) will submit recommendations for future research to the National Science Foundation. NSF has not yet committed to funding the work, but outgoing OSTP technology chief Duncan Moore hopes to "move forward even this year."