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Vol 40  No 6
November 22, 2007


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New offering looks at the science and politics of gems
by Kelly Foss

Gems – and diamonds in particular – have become a vital plot device for a number of movies and literary works throughout history. From Ian Fleming’s Diamonds are Forever and Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone to the more recent movie Blood Diamond, gems and their role in politics have captured our attention and imagination.

This winter, the Department of Earth Sciences is hoping to capitalize on that fascination with a brand new course called Gems: the Science and Politics (EASC 2917). The course is so new it’s not actually listed in the university calendar or in the winter registration guide. Despite that, Dr. Roger Mason is hoping that the course will draw not only those interested in the science of gems, but particularly those in the humanities and arts disciplines.

“The course will cover a broad spectrum of material,” he said. “We’ll look at everything from the formation of gems and what constitutes a gem, the history and politics of gems, to how to improve and imitate gems, and famous gems from around the world. Because of the wealth of material that could be covered, I expect the course won’t be the same in any two years.”

Dr. Mason feels the volume of gem exploration and production in Canada and around the world, and their social and economic impact, means the time is right for such a course at Memorial.

“There has been quite a lot of interest in diamonds in Canada since the first significant discovery about 15 years ago,” he said. “Production began in the North West Territories in 1998 and it may come as a surprise, but Canada has since become the third largest producer of diamonds in the world, behind Botswana and Russia. We’re a significant player in a major global business, and yet, in some respects it almost seems to be a secret.”

Through the course he hopes to touch on the air of mystery which surrounds gems and subjects such as conflict diamonds, smuggling, and gem fakery.

“People are always quite fascinated by criminal behaviour and skullduggery, and there’s a real mystique about gems,” said Dr. Mason. “They have a history and a story to tell. We’ll get to cover a lot of interesting material.

“We probably aren’t going to be able to watch Diamonds are Forever in class, which is a shame because I remember it being quite a decent movie.”

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