Title: Chemistry in the Sherlock Holmes Stories
"Madam, you must stop painting your child's crib." These were the first words spoken by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to a woman who had brought her listless infant daughter to the Edinburgh Medical School in 1912. Doyle, like his creation Sherlock Holmes, had acute deductive powers. His diagnosis of lead poisoning proved to be correct. Conan Doyle's first published medical article, in the British Medical Journal in 1879, dealt with poisons. His interest in chemistry is apparent in his fictional writings as well. Poisons, for example, are mentioned in 22 of the 60 Holmes tales. Numerous other chemicals are mentioned as well. Sherlock Holmes had a chemical "table" in his Baker Street quarters. Here he would relax by doing chemical analyses or syntheses. There is, in fact, so much chemistry in the Sherlock Holmes stories that practically every story has some, whether it be poisons, gems, brandy, acids, or even the famous 7% solution of cocaine. This lecture will discuss the scientific Holmes with quotes from the master himself as well as a few cartoons to illustrate that Asimov's assessment of Holmes as a "blundering chemist" is incorrect.
Audience Level: General (nontechnical) Categories: General Public, General Science, History of Chemistry
James F. O'Brien was born in Philadelphia. He received a B.S. in chemistry from Villanova University and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Minnesota. Following postdoctoral work at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico, Dr. O'Brien joined the faculty at Southwest Missouri State University. In 1992, Dr. O'Brien received the Southwest Missouri State University Excellence in Teaching Award; in 1994, he received the university's Excellence in Research Award; and in 1996, the university named him Distinguished Scholar. His recent interests have centered on molecular orbital calculations of the properties of organometallic and inorganic species. He also devotes time to studying the history of chemistry.