• Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have created a nerve gas detector using a smartphone, a box made of Legos and a chemical sensor. Credit: University of Texas at Austin
     Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have created a nerve gas detector using a smartphone, a box made of Legos and a chemical sensor. Credit: University of Texas at Austin

Researchers Create Chemical Sensor With Legos

June 29, 2018


The device detects poisonous nerve agents.


Researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, have designed a way to sense dangerous chemicals by rigging up a smartphone, a sensor and a box made from Lego bricks, the university has announced. The device could help first responders and scientists in the field identify deadly and difficult-to-detect nerve agents such as VX and sarin.

The new methodology combines a chemical sensor with photography to detect and identify different nerve agents—odorless, tasteless chemical weapons that can cause severe illness and death, sometimes within minutes. The device uses affordable, accessible materials to make an earlier compound more useful in real-world scenarios. It was described in a paper published Wednesday in the open-access journal ACS Central Science.

The chemical sensors generate fluorescence, which is key to the analysis. Different colors and brightnesses can signal to first responders which and how much of several nerve agents are present. Because different categories of nerve agents require different decontamination procedures and treatments for victims—and because the weapons act swiftly, making time of the essence—these variations are key.

Funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the Welch Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation

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