Sunday May 2, 2004
Book 5: The Scrapyard of Insufferable Arrogance — Part II: A Hand of Acey's (CSI Parody)
Note: And now, for a science lesson.

The "identity" of an element is determined by the number of protons it has. Carbon, Nitrogen, and Oxygen have 6, 7, and 8 respectively. Silicon has 14.

The "isotope" of an element is determined by the number of neutrons it has. The predominant isotope of carbon has 6. Carbon 14, for instance, has eight, and is unstable, decaying into Nitrogen 14 by shedding a beta particle. This rate of decay is known, which allows for the "Carbon-dating" procedure we've all heard so much about.

The statements above have been grossly over-simplified.

The gross over-simplification above is nothing compared to the oversimplification in the strip. The strip has been oversimplified to the point that it's almost certainly WRONG. The radioisotopes you'll find if you bombard CHON with a stream of high-energy protons will be all over the table. For purposes of ACCURATE simplicity, however, it IS possible to look at a mixture of stuff, count isotopes, and determine whether it is naturally occurring, or whether it was created with the help of a particle accelerator like a plasma cannon. It's also possible to determine which of the elements in that mixture were in front of the accelerator, and which were added after the fact.

The author briefly toyed with the idea of mapping dozens of radioisotopes into Gerg's dialog, and ran out of time, patience, and space simultaneously. Thus, in the spirit of being entertaining first, and accurate SECOND, Gerg's dialog was run in its current form.

This simplification would have been neither necessary nor acceptable in a television drama about forensic science. Never!


Narrator: Forensic Scientists pore over a sample of our favorite amorph.
Ozvegan Griz: What have you got for me, Gerg?
Ozvegan Gerg: I've got an orgy of evidence. And I know orgies, if you know what I mean.
Ozvegan Griz: I'm sure I have no idea.
Ozvegan Gerg: Right. Umm... Well, our Amorph has been a very naughty boy.
Ozvegan Griz: How do you know he's a boy?
Ozvegan Gerg: I don't. But he has been naughty. His isotope count is way off.
Ozvegan Griz: Maybe he hangs out on spaceship hulls in stellar storms.
Ozvegan Gerg: I thought of that. The count doesn't support it. See, he's loaded with isotopes of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, along with some others.
Ozvegan Gerg: He's almost 20% silicon by weight, though. And his silicon isotope count is only a little above average.
Ozvegan Griz: Go on, Gerg. I'm still waiting for this orgy you promised me.
Ozvegan Gerg: Yeah, that's what she said.
Ozvegan Griz: Again I say go on.
Ozvegan Gerg: Well, the only way to have one component high in isotopes while the other component is not is for you to be ingesting those isotopes. If you're exposed to radiation all of you gets isotopic.
Ozvegan Gerg: Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen... Chow. It's the stuff carbon-based critters are made out of.
Ozvegan Griz: So... He's been burning his carbon-based victims to ash, and then eating the last of the evidence.
Ozvegan Gerg: See? Orgy.
Ozvegan Griz: No orgy, Gerg. Our vic' wasn't burnt to ash, and didn't get eaten. What you've got here is more like a blind date.
Ozvegan Gerg: But she's really hot, right?