A series of whodunnit mysteries featured in the inaugural virtual issue of the Journal of Chemical Education (JCE) can be traced back to UTC.

Dr. Tom Wadell, retired chemistry professor, and Dr. Tom Rybolt, head of the Department of Chemistry, wrote 15 of the stories known collectively as “The Chemical Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.”

People enjoy mysteries, Rybolt explained, and the character of Sherlock Holmes excels at taking ordinary, careful observations and making extraordinarily insightful conclusions.  It’s a story that translates well for many cultures.  The stories have been translated into Chinese, French, Greek, Italian, and Russian.

“We tried to be true to the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) and the appropriate British setting, but write new situations that required careful chemical observations or experiments,” Rybolt said.  “Of course, Holmes had to explain his methods to Watson at the end of the story and so the reader gets insight into the mind of Holmes while having an opportunity to solve the mystery also.”

Rybolt and Waddell wrote the stories between 1989 and 2004.  High school teachers use the stories to get their students thinking, but sometimes the students tried to avoid a few steps, and reached out to Rybolt and Waddell for assistance.

“We could tell that something was not right in the way they asked their questions. We wrote them back and said that we thought their teacher wanted them to think about conclusions from the chemical clues.  How could we figure this out? Well, we did write Sherlock Holmes mystery stories!  Of course there were many legitimate requests for reprints from scientists and professors so we had to sort these out,” Rybolt said.

The Journal of Chemical Education sells a book version of all the stories, which were then translated into French and put in book form and published by Dunod in Paris under the name L’affaire des cristaux jaunes et autres énigmes, 15 mystères chimiques résolus par Sherlock Holmes.

“The rights belong to the Journal of Chemical Education and they receive any royalties.  However, we are glad people are reading them and using them in chemical education,” Rybolt said.

A story about “The Chemical Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” was featured in the June 27, 2011, magazine Chemical & Engineering News that is sent in print or electronic form to more than 150,000 members of the American Chemical Society.

 

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