The Schiensh of Bond: Diamonds are Forever

Do I really have to watch Diamonds are Forever?  I’ve read the book, surely that counts? But no, I have to watch it for BlogalongaBond (a Bond movie a month until Bond 23 is released).

All I remember from the book is diamond smuggling and horse race fixing. However:

While the book featured a straight-forward diamond smuggling plot, the film featured the diamonds being used in a laser satellite.



The film seems to have trouble deciding whether it’s about diamond smuggling or lasers. I figure I discuss both.


Diamonds are made up of carbon. That’s right, simple, humble carbon. Like soot or pencil lead. But clearly not like soot or graphite. Diamond is the hardest known substance to man and it also has extraordinary properties as a heat conductor (though it does not conduct electricity).

The only difference between diamond and other, less fancy forms of carbon is its molecular structure. Diamond, graphite and fullerenes (teeny-tiny footballs made of carbon atoms) are allotropes of carbon. More recently, carbon atoms have been arranged into nano tubes and graphene (sheets of carbon a molecule thick). Anyway, the point is that the structure of diamond is what gives it its unique qualities.

Graphite is sheets of interconnected hexagons arranged in sheets, which are held together by weaker forces:

The sheets can slide across each other, so the graphite in your pencil can leave behind a layer of graphite when you drag it across a piece of paper.

In contrast to graphite, which is quite soft, diamond is incredibly hard. What makes diamond hard is its structure – each carbon atom is bonded to four other carbons in three dimensions (rather than just a sheet).

Diamond is also fairly inert, meaning that it doesn’t tend to react chemically. This, combined with its hardness and its ability to conduct heat, mean that there is a massive demand for industrial diamonds. They are also transparent to visible light, infra red and ultra violet light. Some diamonds, because of their impurities, can act as semiconductors (though most are electrical insulators).


I remember nothing of lasers from my A-level physics so I looked it up on Wikipedia. I didn’t understand Wikipedia so I had to resort to Baby’s First Book of Physics (that’s clearly a lie – I used Physics by Ohanian and Google).

Laser stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

The first thing I need to explain is light.

Visible light is one part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which also includes radio waves, microwaves, gamma radiation and x-rays. The difference in wavelength is why blue light is blue and red light is red. Also, consider that light waves can oscillate in more than one plane:

In a you’ve got one photon travelling in a wave going up and down. In b there are several light particles, all travelling as waves, but at different angles or planes.

If these waves of light are at the same wavelength, but out of phase (or out of sync), the light is incoherent:

Light from a light bulb is incoherent. The atoms in the bulb emit photons, but they all emit photons at different times, so that the waves of light are out of sync.

If the waves are in phase, the light waves are coherent:

In a laser, because of a process called stimulated emission, photons are emitted in sync by the atoms; the light waves are coherent.

My understanding of it is that when one photon is released, it passes other atoms and it causes them to emit photons in sync. It’s something to do with quantum theory (which no-one’s prepared to explain to a biologist). Because the light waves are in phase they combine constructively, making the light beam very intense.

You can stimulate a material to emit coherent light with a flash of visible light. The first lasers used rubies. But not natural rubies, synthetic ones. The laser consists of a long cylindrical crystal of ruby; the chromium impurities within it are the part of the ruby that emit the coherent laser light. The ends of the ruby cylinder are mirrored, although one end is only partially silvered so the light can leave the ruby. The mirrors reflecting the laser light enhance the beam.

This type of laser also consists of a high intensity flash lamp which is used to excite the atoms in the ruby. Like this.

Apparently this is what Blofeld wants diamonds for.

But hang on a minute: in 1971, people didn’t use diamonds to build lasers. While it is true that diamond’s semiconductor, heat conductor, and optical properties make it ideal for building lasers, natural diamonds are too expensive, their quality isn’t consistent enough and they need to be big. It was only in 2008 that diamonds of sufficient size and quality could be made and utilised in Raman lasers, and this is only due to advances in the production of synthetic of diamonds.

The main question is this: how destructive are they? The answer: pretty destructive.

You can cut diamonds with lasers. Apparently, the US Navy were working on a laser that can shoot down artillery shells and missiles (before it was decided that this was a waste of money), although that was an electron laser rather than a light laser.

Oh, ok. We’ll stop there. This is all you really wanted, isn’t it? Destroying sh*t with lasers?


Join Schiensh next month as I endure my first ever Roger Moore film in Live and Let Die.

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