In A World Of Lab-Grown Diamonds, What Is Real And Fake?

16:45 minutes

brilliant cut diamond held by tweezers
Credit: Shutterstock

There are two ways to grow a diamond. You can dig one up from the Earth—a product of billions of years of pressure and heat placed on carbon. Or you can make one in a lab—by applying lots of that same heat and pressure to tiny starter crystals—and get it made much faster. 

Put these two objects under a microscope and they look exactly the same. But is the lab-grown diamond real or fake?

The answer lies somewhere in between. The same goes for many other things, like artificial flavors that have the same chemical structure as the real thing. Or our favorite nature documentaries that put a sensational spin on an otherwise unvarnished look at wildlife. So when science gets a boost from the “not real,” what do we call it? 

Writer and historian Lydia Pyne would call them “genuine fakes” and she explores some of them in her latest book Genuine Fakes: How Phony Things Teach Us About Real Stuff. She joins Ira to talk about the vast gray area between real and fake when it comes to science.

Read an excerpt from Pyne’s new book, Genuine Fakes: How Phony Things Teach Us About Real Stuff.

Segment Guests

Lydia Pyne

Lydia Pyne is a writer and science historian and a visiting researcher in the Institute for Historical Studies at the University of Texas at Austin in Austin, Texas.

Meet the Producers and Host

About Katie Feather

Katie Feather is a former SciFri producer and the proud mother of two cats, Charleigh and Sadie.

About Ira Flatow

Ira Flatow is the host and executive producer of Science FridayHis green thumb has revived many an office plant at death’s door.

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