Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Latest Updates

April 2, 2013

Seeing the world in a grain of sand

Born in 1632 in the Netherlands, Antony van Leeuwenhoek was a self-taught man who made microscopes – ultimately producing some 500 of them. Van Leeuwenhoek’s microscopes could magnify objects up to two hundred times. That opened up a range of investigations to him and he took advantage of the new devices he was creating to look at almost anything and everything, including bacteria he obtained from between his teeth. Van Leeuwenhoek also took a deep interest in a common substance: sand. He collected it and studied it. That may have been because he was using sand to grind the lenses of his microscope. In any event, using his creative mind and good observations, he studied sand intensely. He determined that sand grains are a bit like snowflakes, with individuality built into each particle. I was reading recently about van Leeuwenhoek in a book by Michael Welland called Sand: The Never-ending Story. It’s a good read and I recommend it if you take an interest in the natural world. Even a simple substance like sand can be fascinating from a variety of viewpoints once you learn something about it. Just as one example, sand can be of forensic interest. Sand found in the tires of a car or the boots of person can place a suspect at the scene of the crime just as effectively as an eye-witness. Sherlock Holmes was, of course, a fictional character, but his methods of observing sand and mud on shoes have the strength of forensic science behind them. An early case where forensics concerning the evidence of sand and soil came about in 1908 in Bavaria. The police suspected a man who happened to be a poacher of murdering a woman. Quite luckily for the police, the poacher’s wife had cleaned his shoes the day before the murder. Police found three layers of earth material on them during their investigation. The first layer, the one nearest the sole of the shoe, corresponded to the earth outside the poacher’s house. No surprises there: he had worn his freshly cleaned shoes when he left his house, and picked up materials on his shoes as soon as he stepped outside. The next layer of material on the shoes was laced with a distinctive red sand of the sort found where the body of the dead woman had been discovered. The final and outermost layer included cement, brick fragments and coal dust corresponding to materials on the ground where the poacher’s gun had been found. Tellingly, none of the layers of material on the suspect’s shoe matched the soil from the fields where the poacher claimed he had been at the time of the murder. In short, the simple evidence of detritus on his shoes condemned the suspect, bolstering the prosecution’s case just as much a witness might have. Sometimes you really can see the world in a grain of sand. --- Dr. E. Kirsten Peters was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

1
Text Only
Latest Updates
  • new water treatment facility Officials break ground on new waste water facility

    Rain didn’t dampen enthusiasm Thursday when ground was broken for a wastewater plant that will double both the treatment capacity and opportunities for economic development in the Claypool Hill and Wardell communities.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Absentee voting lagging

    Absentee balloting is off to a slow start in a closely-watched Southwest Virginia Senate race that will determine which political party controls the General Assembly.  
    Three candidates are vying to succeed former lawmaker Phillip Puckett, who resigned in June. A special election is set for Aug. 19. The candidates are Republican A. Benton “Ben” Chafin Jr. Democrat D.M. “Mike” Hymes and independent Rick A. Mullins.

    July 25, 2014

  • Civil complaint filed against GM alleging defects caused local woman’s death

    The estate of a young Mercer County woman and her unborn child have filed a civil complaint in Mercer County Circuit Court alleging that a defective ignition switch in the woman’s 2005 Chevy Cobalt led to her death as well as the death of her unborn child.
    Keisha Dawn Vest, 26, of Princeton, the wife of Jason Vest, and mother of a (then) 3-year-old son, was driving to Mt. Airy, N.C., on May 2, 2006, when the brakes on her vehicle failed. Mrs. Vest was working in Mt. Airy as an MRI technician. Without brakes, Mrs. Vest lost control of her vehicle and entered an intersection into the path of a tractor-trailer. She died as a result of the injuries she received in the wreck.

    July 25, 2014

  • ‘Overwhelming:’ Area fans supporting Saints trip to West Virginia

    The community response to the New Orleans Saints’ three-week visit to The Greenbrier for training camp can be described best in one word that Greenbrier owner Jim Justice, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and Saints head coach Sean Payton all used Thursday when discussing the team’s first 24-plus hours in the Mountain State.
    “Overwhelming,” they all agreed.

    July 25, 2014

  • Va. to join higher education distance learning agreement

    Virginia higher education officials are working to make it easier for students to take online classes and for universities to offer them.

    July 24, 2014

  • Police Brutality screen shot. Technology plays key part in battling police brutality (VIDEO)

    Allegations of police brutality are nothing new -- as long as there has been law enforcement, citizens have registered claims that some officers cross the line. But in the last few years, the claims of excessive force are being corroborated with new technology from cell phone cameras, police dash-cams and surveillance videos. 

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Better police needed for college teams enticed to cheat

    The NCAA once cracked down on colleges that went too far luring top prospects, then it targeted teams that lathered players with special treatment. That was until the NCAA's get-tough approach backfired, rendering it ineffective and creating an opportunity for those who want to play dirty.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Has the ipad lost its swag?

    July 24, 2014

  • Facebook continues moneymaking trend

    Facebook seems to have figured out - for now at least - the holy grail for all media right now: how to make money selling mobile ads.

    July 24, 2014

  • McAuliffe heads West to fundraiser

    July 24, 2014