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"I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers."
- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Atomic Microscopy  
  A device that can actually visualize a individual molecule and its parts.  

This is a very early fictional discussion of what it might look like to actually examine a single molecule.

He brought me to a metal stand, on which a small instrument constructed of some white metal was placed. A large number of wires were connected with various portions of it, and these wires passed into the side-wall of the building.

In appearance, this marvel of micrology, so far as the eye-piece and upper portions went, was like an ordinary microscope, but its magnifying power was to me unbelievable. It magnified the object under examination many thousand times more than the most powerful microscope in the world.

I looked through the upper lens, and saw a small globe suspended in the middle of a tiny chamber filled with soft blue light, or transparent material. Circling round this globe four other spheres revolved in orbits, some almost circular, some elliptical, some parabolic. As I looked, Brande touched a key, and the little globules began to fly more rapidly round their primary, and make wider sweeps in their revolutions. Another key was pressed, and the revolving spheres slowed down and drew closer until I could scarcely distinguish any movement. The globules seemed to form a solid ball.

"Attend now!" Brande exclaimed.

He tapped the first key sharply. A little grey cloud obscured the blue light. When it cleared away, the revolving globes had disappeared.

"What do you think of it?" he asked carelessly.

"What is it? What does it mean? Is it the solar system or some other system illustrated in miniature? I am sorry for the misadventure."

"You are partly correct," Brande replied. "It is an illustration of a planetary system, though a small one. But there was no misadventure. I caused the somewhat dangerous result you witnessed, the wreckage not merely of the molecule of marsh gas you were examining--which any educated chemist might do as easily as I--but the wreckage of its constituent atoms. This is a scientific victory which dwarfs the work of Hermholz, Avogadro, or Mendelejeff. The immortal Dalton himself" (the word "immortal" was spoken with a sneer) "might rise from his grave to witness it."

"Atoms--molecules! What are you talking about?" I asked, bewildered. >{? "You were looking on at the death of a molecule--a molecule of marsh gas, as I have already said. It was caused by a process which I would describe to you if I could reduce my own life work--and that of every scientific amateur who has preceded me since the world began--into half a dozen sentences. As that would be difficult, I must ask you to accept my personal assurance that you witnessed a fact, not a fiction of my imagination."

"And your instrument is so perfect that it not only renders molecules and atoms but their diffusion visible? It is a microscopic impossibility. At least it is amazing."

"Pshaw!" Brande exclaimed impatiently. "My instrument does certainly magnify to a marvellous extent, but not by the old device of the simple microscope, which merely focussed a large area of light rays into a small one. So crude a process could never show an atom to the human eye.

I add much to that. I restore to the rays themselves the luminosity which they lost in their passage through our atmosphere. I give them back all their visual properties, and turn them with their full etheric blaze on the object under examination. Great as that achievement is, I deny that it is amazing. It may amaze a Papuan to see his eyelash magnified to the size of a wire, or an uneducated Englishman to see a cheesemite magnified to the size of a midge. It should not amaze you to see a simple process a little further developed."

"Where does the danger you spoke of come in?" I asked with a pretence of interest. Candidly, I did not believe a single word that Brande had said.

"If you will consult a common text-book on the physics of the ether," he replied, "you will find that one grain of matter contains sufficient energy, if etherised, to raise a hundred thousand tons nearly two miles. In face of such potentiality it is not wise to wreck incautiously even the atoms of a molecule."

"And the limits to this description of scientific experiment? Where are they?"

"There are no limits," Brande said decisively.

"No man can say to science 'thus far and no farther.' No man ever has been able to do so. No man ever shall!"

From The Crack of Doom, by Robert Cromie.
Published by Digby, Long & Co. in 1895
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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Crack of Doom
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Cromie
  Tech news articles related to The Crack of Doom
  Tech news articles related to works by Robert Cromie

Atomic Microscopy-related news articles:
  - Real-Time 3D Electron Microscopy

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