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A stone even hydrochloric acid can’t dissolve

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

The truly specific feature of this black and easily forgettable stone is that it in a matter of seconds it can transform into a shining diamond. It is not a precious stone but due to being one of the most in-demand minerals in the world its area of application is quite extensive. Nowadays, it is popular both among students and nuclear power plant workers. The metal used to power mobile phones and different other kinds of gadgets is called graphite.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

Graphite deposits since ancient times have been of great economic interest. However, for quite a long time the only source of the mineral for the whole of Europe was a small civil parish in England - Borrowdale. Back then, the highest quality samples suitable for pencil manufacturing could be found only in Borrowdale parish. Graphite was originally used by locals for marking sheep, but by the Middle Ages people had already learnt how to saw graphite into sticks and started using it for drawing and writing. If applied to any surface, graphite pencils left clear unctuous marks. For that reason, many artists used them to draw their pictures. Eventually, graphite was put to another use - in the military, where it was used to make moulds for the cannonballs. The British Parliament even acknowledged graphite as a strategical asset; according to the laws of that time, selling mineral on the black market was considered as a treason against the State, which was punished with either a prison sentence or execution.

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Фото © Hans Haase

Russian people had no idea about the real value of graphite deposits. Therefore, starting from the middle of the nineteenth century, many foreign companies tried to capitalise on the situation and buy deposits at rock-bottom prices. There is even a story that one French adventurer bough a huge deposit in Irkutsk for only 300 roubles, which would amount now to about $5.000.

Perhaps, even at those times Europeans had a gut feeling about the hidden potential of graphite - apart from producing synthetic diamonds, it is also possible to recover gold from this stone. Recently conducted research has shown that one ton of graphite contains about twenty grams of yellow metal. As a consequence, numerous scientists from all over the world are working at developing an efficient way of extracting this precious metal from graphite stone.

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Фото © wikimedia.org

There are beliefs according to which graphite not only positively affects its owner’s finances but also improves that person’s health. For the first time, the stone was used for medical purposes by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, best known for creating the system of alternative medicine, later known as homeopathy. Nowadays, graphite is still actively used for homeopathic treatment, mostly when addressing chronic skin diseases.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

The properties of the mineral are quite unique and many-sided. The most unusual are that it may conduct electrical current and it does not dissolve in most of the acids. The ever-growing use of graphite is specifically noted in nuclear energetics. Graphite rods help controlling nuclear reactions - slowing them down or intensifying at the right moment.