A transparent flow channel fluidly communicates a fluid source and a collection reservoir. An interrogating light beam passes through a first polarizer having a first plane of polarization. The flow channel is orthogonal to the light beam. The light beam passes through a fluid sample as it flows through the flow channel, and is then filtered through a second polarizer having a second plane of polarization rotated 90.degree. from the first plane of polarization. An electronic photo-detector is aligned with the light beam, and signals the presence of birefringent microcrystals in the fluid sample by generating voltage pulses. A disposable containment fixture includes the flow channel and the collection reservoir. The fixture is adapted for removable insertion into an interrogation cradle that includes optical and data processing components. The cradle rigidly positions the centerline of the flow channel orthogonal to the light beam.
The United States Government has rights in this invention pursuant to Contract No. W-7405-ENG-48 between the United States Department of Energy and the University of California for the operation of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.