Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sherlock’s magical microscope OR ‘is this a tricorder which I see before me?’

In BBC’s up-dated version of Sherlock we see him do wondrous things with a simple microscope. The scene that intrigued me most is from the Hound of the Baskervilles where he infers from one look through the microscope that a sugar sampled has not been spiked with a yet unidentified hallucinogenic drug. So, I kept wondering, what has he been looking for through that microscope? Trace-amounts of a white powder among the equally white sugar crystals? Changes in the crystal structure? Chemical composition? And all this with a traditional microscope??

Let’s look at the facts: what we have is a rather simple looking device that allows precise analysis of a wide variety of samples with minimal sample prep. That can be used by anyone moderately schooled in the art. And which provides incredibly precise detail on molecular structure, chemical composition and cellular anatomy. Sounds like science fiction? But also strangely familiar? Exactly. The famed Star Trek tricorder. And, as we know, when all other possibilities have been eliminated, whatever remains…

Well, let’s not nitpick, but rather sit back and enjoy. Science that actually delivers results. Successfully. The first time around. I love fiction.

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