Inventor, 89, has his eye on diamonds

Dr. Zalman Shapiro receives his patent certificate from John Doll, acting Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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Kai Ryssdal: At the U.S. patent office today, 89-year-old Zalman Shapiro was presented with his 15th patent. I could give you the technical definition of what he did, but think of it this way: We might soon be seeing a lot of bigger and cheaper diamond engagement rings out there. I'll let Dr. Shapiro explain his new way to mass-produce man-made bling.


ZALMAN SHAPIRO: What I have done is I have combined the issue of solubility of carbon in liquid metal with the formation of crystals of diamond.

Not only will it make it less expensive, but it will also make them more uniform in quality. They will be more available. And because they're going to be cheaper they'll be used for various other technological purposes, which have not yet been developed.

Jewelry will become much more affordable and, therefore, there will be much more available of various kinds. They may even decorate some of the pets with jewelry.

Because of the unique properties of diamond, it's the hardest material known to man at this point. And its reflectivity and its refractivity, and the fact that it is stiff and transparent. One of the most important properties is the fact that it has a very high thermal conductivity. That's why, incidentally, the nickname for diamonds is "ice." And the reason for that is because if you put the diamond against your skin, it conducts the heat away so quickly that it feels cold.

Diamonds have been synthesized in the last 50 years, roughly. And I was working at Johns Hopkins where I got my degrees in 1942 during the World War II, and my professor under whom I was working, was very much interested in diamonds. And so I became interested at that time. He was trying all kinds of methods of synthesizing diamonds and failed. But anyhow, since that time I've been interested in following it.

Persistence is absolutely essential. You have to be persistent, otherwise you can't come up with anything unless you're persistent.

RYSSDAL: A very persistent 89-year-old Zalman Shapiro in Washington today to receive his 15th patent on mass-producing diamonds.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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