Jim O'Brien was born in Philadelphia on the 4th of July. He received a BS 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, he joined the faculty at Southwest Missouri State University, recently renamed Missouri State Universit.
While at MSU, Dr. O'Brien received three research awards and three teaching awards, including the Governor of Missouri’s Award for Teaching Excellence in 2001. In 2002 he was named the university’s fourth Distinguished Professor. Now retired, he does volunteer work at a Springfield hospital and continues to study the History of Chemistry, Sherlock Holmes, and Civil War History. He tries to play some Golf. He and wife Barbara often travel to visit good friends in Ireland.
Sherlock Holmes: Forensic Science Innovator
Sherlock Holmes used seven forensic techniques in solving his cases. Some, like footprints and cipher analysis, were well known in his time. Others, such as fingerprints and handwriting analysis were new. Some were so new that official police departments had never used them.
This talk will discuss all of Holmes's forensics and place them in historical context.
Famous Mad Hatters
The origin of the phrase "Mad as a Hatter" is due to the incidence of odd behavior on the part of workers in the early felt hat industry. Their odd behavior, or "madness", was the result of mercury poisoning contracted on the job. This presentation will discuss the recent mercury analyses done on the hair of Isaac Newton; the deterioration of the great mind of Michael Faraday; the bizarre behavior of Boston Corbett, the man who shot John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln; and the possibility that mercury poisoning affected the behavior of other famous people such as King Charles II of England, the author William Makepeace Thackeray, and a number of famous artists, such as Rubens, Renoir, Dufy, and Klee. “Mad” women in History have been more difficult to locate. One eminent female whose health was affected by chemical exposure was Clare Boothe Luce. Her health problems while serving as U.S. Ambassador to Italy in the 1950’s will be discussed. Also, mercury analysis of the hair of Russian Tsarina Anastasia, wife of Ivan the Terrible, suggest she may have been poisoned.