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Chemistry in the

Sherlock Holmes Stories

James F. O'Brien, PhD

Missouri State University

Springfield, MO

"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 (much as today's students relax!). 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 and will illustrate that Asimov's assessment of Holmes as a "blundering chemist" is incorrect.

Doctor O'Brien's Speaking Schedule

November 17, 2009, Time TBA

Site TBA

Monmouth, Illinois


November 18, 2009, Time TBA

Site TBA

Peoria, Illinois


October 15, 2008, 8 pm

Room 143, Selby Chemistry Building

Marietta, College

Marietta, Ohio


November 18, 2008, 7:30 pm

The Hen House

Cumberland, Maryland


November 20, 2008, 7.45 pm

Myers Steak House

Jamestown Community College

Salamanca, New York


November 21, 2008, 7 pm

Ward Beecher Hall, Room 3022

Youngstown State University

Youngstown, Ohio


James F. O'Brien PhD

Jim O'Brien was born on July 4, in Philadelphia, PA. He received a BS in Chemistry with honors 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, he joined the faculty at Southwest Missouri State University. Dr. O'Brien has received Southwest Missouri State University awards for Excellence in Research in 1989, 1994 and 1998. He has received Southwest Missouri State University awards for Excellence in Teaching in 1992 and 2001. In 2001 he also received the Governor of Missouri's Award for Teaching Excellence. In 2002, the university named him Distinguished Professor. He is now retired and devoting himself to the History of Chemistry, Golf, Bridge, Sherlock Holmes, Civil War History and Walking (formerly running)

For a list of Jim's previous talks over the years, check here..

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