St Andrews bright spark uncovers a fortune in the flames

Pic Alan Richardson Dundee Pix-Ar.co.uk'Dr Wuzong Zhou from The University of St Andrews chemistry department whose research has uncovered diamond particles in candle flame, seen here with the electron microscope he used.

Pic Alan Richardson Dundee Pix-Ar.co.uk'Dr Wuzong Zhou from The University of St Andrews chemistry department whose research has uncovered diamond particles in candle flame, seen here with the electron microscope he used.

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A groundbreaking discovery by a St Andrews University academic may lead to future research into how diamonds - a key substance in industry - could be created more cheaply, and in a more environmentally friendly way.

Research by Dr Wuzong Zhou, who is a professor of chemistry at Scotland’s oldest university, has revealed that around 1.5 million diamond nanoparticles are created in a candle flame every second it is burning.

And, as Dr Zhou disclosed, his find only came about after he accepted a challenge from a fellow scientist.

He told the Citizen: ”A colleague at another university said to me,‘Of course no one knows what a candle flame is actually made of.’

“I told him I believed science could explain everything eventually, so I decided to find out.”

Dr Zhou used a new sampling technique to remove particles from the centre of the flame.

‘‘It is believed to have never been done before, and he found that it contained all four known forms of carbon - which came as somewhat of a surprise as each form is usually created under different conditions.

His research has made a significant scientific leap towards solving a mystery which has befuddled people for hundreds of years.

Since the first candle was invented in ancient China more than 2000 years ago, many have longed to know what hidden secrets its flames contained.

During the new sampling technique which he invented himself he was assisted by his student Zixue Su.

Dr Zhou explained that, at the bottom of the candle flame, it was already known that hydro-carbon molecules existed which were converted into carbon dioxide by the top of the flame. However, the process in between remained a mystery.

Now, both diamond nanoparticles and fullerenic particles have been discovered in the centre of the flame, along with graphitic and amorphous carbon.

He added: ”Unfortunately the diamond particles are burned away in the process, and converted into carbon dioxide, but this will change the way we view a candle flame forever.”

Rosey Barnet, artistic director of one of Scotland’s biggest candle manufacturers, Shearer Candles, said: ”We are thrilled to hear about the discovery that diamond particles exist in a candle flame.

’’Currently there is no way of extracting these particles, but it is still an exciting find and one that could change the way people view candles.

‘‘The research will be of interest to the entire candle making industry.”