New Apparel Could Ward Off Chemical Weapons

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Global Security Newswire Staff
May 8, 2014, 5:44 a.m.

U.S. re­search­ers have de­veloped a fab­ric con­tain­ing car­bon nan­otubes that — if used in cloth­ing — could pro­tect its wear­er against deadly nerve agent.

Sci­ent­ists at the Na­tion­al In­sti­tute of Stand­ards and Tech­no­logy en­gin­eered the nan­otubes — de­scribed as “spe­cial mo­lecules that re­semble cyl­in­ders formed of chick­en wire” — to hold a cop­per-based cata­lyst. The cata­lyst breaks down a key chem­ic­al bond in nerve agents, such as sar­in, and us­ing nan­otubes en­hances that pro­cess, the in­sti­tute wrote in a May 6 press re­lease.

Sar­in — which was used used in a 1995 Tokyo sub­way at­tack — be­longs to a group of agents called or­gan­o­phos­phates. Those sub­stances can be harm­ful if in­haled and can also work through the skin.

NIST of­fi­cials said the new re­search could help lead to new ap­par­el for mil­it­ary per­son­nel in­volved in cleanup op­er­a­tions. One re­main­ing ques­tion to be answered is wheth­er the cata­lyst should be ad­ded to the nan­otube struc­ture be­fore or after it is woven in­to cloth­ing, the in­sti­tute said.