“I’m fascinated by the idea that genetics is digital. A gene is a long sequence of coded letters, like computer information. Modern biology is becoming very much a branch of information technology.” ― Richard Dawkins
The deaths of two men and a rash of recent hospitalizations in Australia, all suspected to result from the use of synthetic cannabis, are focusing attention on a growing worldwide problem.
Drug users have been embracing products touted as producing a natural marijuanalike high. The effect is produced by synthetic compounds designed to mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, which are sprayed onto plant material then often marketed as “Spice.” However, “synthetic cannabinoids certainly have the potential to be significantly more dangerous than the natural plant material that they supposedly mimic,” says David Caldicott, an emergency medical doctor at the Australian National University in Canberra.
While I don’t normally cover synthetic/man-made gems, this one attracted my attention due to its cool origin. It is a glass made from melting the volcanic ash from Mt St Helens’ 1980 eruption, with selective impurities added to the mix to produce vibrant red, blue or green colours. It is then made into jewellery and sold to tourists visiting the area as souvenirs.
Ash was already a souvenir in its raw form, but workers salvaging things accidentally melted some with an acetylene torch, creating a green glass. Others took up the idea in ovens, and a tourist nicknack industry was born. Being formed of melted ash the material has similar properties to obsidian, and it has been wrongly described as such. So while it is not a real stone, there still remains a certain amount of romance to it, for those of us inclined to rock collecting to add a pretty sample of the eruption.
“It is definitely Silicon Carbide. It is made for the abrasives industry (you know that black grit you tumble stuff in). It is made by taking a graphite rod (very large) and burring it in Sand. They run a large amount of electricity through the graphite (hence the location in Niagara Falls with lots of access to inexpensive electricity). The current causes the graphite to heat up and vaporize and it causes the silicon and oxygen in the sand to dissociate. As the Carbon atoms and silicon atoms go screaming out of the hot sand pile, they recombine to form the silicon carbide. When they are done, and the silicon carbide is cooling, oxygen in the air reacts with the still hot silicon carbide to form a very thin oxide layer. It is this thin oxide layer that causes the iridescence (just as a thin layer of oil on water interacts with light to create a rainbow of colors). (I used to live in Niagara Falls, NY and knew a foreman to the Carborundum manufacturer that made this material and he explained it at one of the Buffalo Geological Society Meetings. (PS, I recognize my handwriting on the linked picture)” -Dean