Legos, Smartphone, and Novel Chemicals Unite to Detect Nerve Agents

Though nerve attacks are, thankfully, very rare, when they do happen first responders need a way to quickly identify the agent that was used. Researchers at University of Texas at Austin have brought together both simple and advanced technologies to create a system for detecting nerve agents such as VX and sarin.

Previously, members of the team have developed chemical compounds that react with nerve agents to neutralize them and which fluoresce when the reaction occurs. This glow is quite weak, so the team built a special box out of Lego blocks and utilized a smartphone as the eye that can spot the glow happening within the box. The combination of the technologies essentially powers the detecting aspect of the novel chemical compounds that react with nerve agents.

Since a number of the compounds can be positioned into the reaction box, and each one fluoresces at different wavelengths of light, the smartphone can differentiate between which compounds is reacting and therefore which nerve agent it is reacting with.

Since existing instruments that can identify nerve agents can cost tens of thousands of dollars, the combination of the easy-to-build Lego schematics and a standard smartphone can bring the same capability to agencies that are on a tight budget, which almost all are.


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