Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students



Diamond, one of nature's most spectacular creations, has been blessed with a unique set of properties. In this seminar, we approach this fascinating mineral from a variety of perspectives. Throughout human history, diamonds have served as powerful symbols of perfection, wealth, power, beauty, love, and eternity. We explore their history as valuable gemstones, discuss diamond prospecting and mining, and delve into the often-tragic politics behind the international diamond trade. On a planetary time scale, the chemical and physical properties of individual diamonds provide clues that help geologists understand the nature of Earth's deep interior and the origins of our solar system. Since they are extremely tough, we are able to investigate how diamonds record information about the conditions under which they formed. Finally, we will look at diamond as an über-material. It is the hardest substance known to humankind and also possesses the highest thermal conductivity of any known material; in fact, it leaves the runners-up in the dust. These and other exceptional qualities make diamond an ideal material for many industrial and research applications. In this seminar we examine the efforts of scientists to improve upon nature, investigating cutting-edge methods for synthesizing single crystal diamond on a commercial scale, which could potentially usher in a new diamond age to follow our current age of silicon.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Wendy Mao

"I am an associate professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and, by courtesy, in Geophysics. My research focuses on the behavior of materials under compression. We use diamonds to squeeze samples to high pressures and study the dramatic changes that are induced. This work has application to understanding Earth and planetary interiors, and developing new materials with potential energy-related applications (e.g., hydrogen storage, photovoltaic, and battery materials). My research group website is"