Superman is able to use his super strength to squeeze coal into diamonds. Theoretically, if someone had unlimited strength in real life, would it be possible to do this? -- marcusbrute
You realize, Marcus, we're talking about what (a) a fictional character of virtually unlimited powers (barring kryptonite-related issues) could, (b) if real, be (c) theoretically but (d) realistically expected to do. Even by Straight Dope standards this takes us into a pretty abstruse realm. That's probably why I got into a big argument on the subject with my assistant Una, who's normally as tranquil as a September morn.
Admittedly I started off behind the eight ball owing to my scandalously inadequate knowledge of artificial diamond making. I submitted that squeezing coal into diamonds was impossible. Somewhere I'd gotten the idea that fake diamonds were all made by a process known as chemical vapor deposition, and that CVD approximated how natural diamonds were made. CVD involved heat and pressure, but the main thing was you started out with a seed crystal you bathed in carbon-rich vapor and from this the diamond was basically grown. That was a far cry from the scenario in the comic books, where Superman grabbed a chunk of coal, squeezed, and voila, a diamond. For one thing, growing a diamond via CVD could take two or three days. Not to slight this achievement, but it wasn't the kind of dramatic gesture that was going to thrill Lois Lane.
Una conceded you couldn't squeeze an ordinary lump of coal into a diamond
I gave it a shot anyway. I pointed out that HPHT required an elaborate press of intricate geometry to concentrate the compressive forces. It wasn't as if Superman could just grab a lump of graphite and squeeze it like a tomato.
He's Superman, said Una. According to Wikipedia, he can withstand the impact of a nuclear explosion. You're saying diamonds are going to stymie him because he hasn't got the right belt-press jig?
Me: I'm saying if "he's Superman" is the answer to all questions, why are we having this discussion? He can do anything he wants by magic. We're trying to establish what somebody with unlimited strength could do in real life.
Una: Nobody has unlimited strength in real life.
Me: I know that. That's the point. We have to set some reasonable bounds on the question. Let's say you've got enough strength to manage 130,000 atmospheres. Is that alone enough to create a diamond? I say no. Never mind the special press, you still need a temperature of 3,100 degrees.
Una: Heat vision.
Me: How's that supposed to work? Superman presumably is squeezing the graphite rod in his hand. You're telling me he's going to use his super powers to heat his own body to nearly one-third the temperature of the surface of the sun?
Una: He's Superman.
Me: This isn't getting us anywhere.
Una: Let's use something besides HPHT then. Superman could create the diamonds by setting off a super explosion. Diamond crystals five nanometers in diameter can be formed by detonating certain carbon-containing explosives in a metal chamber.
Me: Where are you getting this from?
Me: Will you quit with the Wikipedia? From the standpoint of reliability, Wikipedia might as well be written by gorillas. Besides, where, on short notice, is Superman supposed to come up with the carbon-containing explosives and the metal chamber?
Una. He's --
Me: That's OK. Forget I asked.
Hope this clarifies things, Marcus. And thanks. Posing the bold questions is how we advance the frontiers of knowledge. I'm not saying it's fast.
Comments, questions? Take it up with Cecil on the Straight Dope Message Board, straightdope.com, or write him at the Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.