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"We [science fiction writers] always wanted to believe in "private sector" space -- hucksters make better characters than a government does."
- Larry Niven

Structural Scanning  
  Essentially, a whole-object camera, that would take a detailed picture of the structure of an object.  

Relatively early description of this idea - see notes below for earlier versions.

"That was just one aspect of the research work going on at that tune. Another aspect was Dr. Franz Scheeman's work on structural scanning with neutrino beams. You see, Scheeman developed a method for scanning a material object, inside and out, and for extracting from the transmitted beams a complete encoding of the arrangement of atoms and molecules within the object. It was analogous to the way in which an old TV camera encoded the information contained in a visual scene." Brozlan took a deep breath. "The real breakthrough came when we combined Scheeman's technique with the molecular-deposition process that we have just been talking about!" Silence reigned for a long tune while the Assassin digested the professor's words. Then his eyes widened slowly and transfixed Brozlan with a dumbfounded, unblinking stare.

"You're joking . . ." the Assassin breathed at last.

"A solid-object camera!" the colonel confirmed for him. "Yes, Hadley, you've got it. They could scan an object and derive a complete structural code for it. From that code they could generate a computer program to control the deposition process. Result—a perfect analog, a molecule-by-molecule copy of the original. And, of course, if they could make one they could just as easily make as many as they liked. Think of it, Hadley . . ."

From Assassin, by James P. Hogan.
Published by Stellar #4: Science Fiction Stories in 1978
Additional resources -

Compare to the essential scanning idea behind the cosmic express from The Cosmic Express (1930) by Jack Williamson and the Trimagnescope from Hogan's 1977 novel Inherit the Stars.

Thanks to Winchell Chung's Project Rho for the quote.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Assassin
  More Ideas and Technology by James P. Hogan
  Tech news articles related to Assassin
  Tech news articles related to works by James P. Hogan

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