New device tests chemical warfare agent effects on surfaces

A team of scientists at Virginia Tech recently completed a device that can measure the effect chemical agents have on surfaces.

The device, which fills an entire laboratory, received $2 million in grant support from the U.S. Army. The foundational work explored how deadly toxins including sarin and VX nerve agents react when they come into contact with surfaces, Phys.org reports.

"When chemical warfare agents impinge on a surface, they may decompose into products that could be toxic or benign, or they may simply evaporate back into the environment," John Morris, a professor of analytical chemistry who led the project to build the device, said, according to Phys.org. "Their reaction pathways depend on the physical and chemical properties of surfaces in ways that are poorly understood."

The device was first tested at Virginia Tech using non-toxic mimics before it was disassembled and reconstructed at the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.

The results of the first study using live agents were published this year in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.

"These first experiments are already providing new information about differences between the surface chemistry of the mimics and the actual agents," Morris said, Phys.org reports.