Tiny Tech #30: Molecules and the Modern-Day Sherlock Holmes

Today from the world of Tiny Tech:

The 1930s radio version of the great fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, often exclaimed “Elementary, my dear Watson!” when he reached an obvious conclusion. What you might not know, is that Sherlock Holmes was an expert chemist, often carrying out chemical experiments as part of his detective work.

Modern-day chemical detectives use sophisticated techniques in their work. For example, when molecules are irradiated with a laser, they emit light of different wavelengths by a process called the Raman effect. The Raman effect can be used to analyze a sample of unknown composition. If the sample is very small, however, the emitted light is too weak to detect.

But metal nanoparticles can amplify the Raman effect, and greatly increase the amount of light emitted by a sample. Because of the enhancement, even a sample of just a few molecules can be analyzed. In the future, this capability may be important to ensuring public safety. For example, if a sample contains a small amount of a poison or explosive, a larger and deadlier amount might be present somewhere nearby.

I think Sherlock Holmes would be delighted by this. Why? “It’s molecular, my dear Watson!”

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