You Could Even Say It Glows

December 01, 1998

Chemists at the University of Maryland, College Park, have developed a new, highly selective way to detect chemical weapons. The system uses molecules that are fluorescent in the presence of even small amounts of lethal phosphate esters.

The research is outlined in the December 2 edition of the peer reviewed Journal of the American Chemical Society, which is published by the world's largest scientific society, based in Washington, D.C.

The most common chemical weapons attack acetylcholine esterase, an enzyme in the human body which controls muscle contraction. Many current detectors employ the enzyme itself and are very sensitive. However, they also detect benign chemicals that inhibit acetylcholine esterase, including many pesticides.

To better target just dangerous substances, the new method uses molecules made to react specifically with volatile fluoro- and cyano- phosphate esters. They are the active ingredients in nerve agents like SARIN, which was used by terrorists in a 1995 Japanese subway attack. "Our molecules will selectively detect the phosphate esters that would injure you or me. Our molecules are more specific," claims University of Maryland chemist Robert S. Pilato, Ph.D.

For safety, Pilato's laboratory is testing the molecules against chemical weapon mimics. These phosphate esters react identically to warfare agents, but have vapor pressures too low to amass a lethal dose. The scientists engineered their molecules so that reaction with those gases produced another molecule that fluoresces.

In order to detect the fluorescence, the sensor molecule is immobilized in a polymer matrix which could be used to coat fiber optics. Says Pilato: "The next step is to take those polymer immobilized molecules and screen them against the real McCoy."
A nonprofit organization with a membership of more than 155,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

American Chemical Society

Related Molecules Articles from Brightsurf:

Finally, a way to see molecules 'wobble'
Researchers at the University of Rochester and the Fresnel Institute in France have found a way to visualize those molecules in even greater detail, showing their position and orientation in 3D, and even how they wobble and oscillate.

Water molecules are gold for nanocatalysis
Nanocatalysts made of gold nanoparticles dispersed on metal oxides are very promising for the industrial, selective oxidation of compounds, including alcohols, into valuable chemicals.

Water molecules dance in three
An international team of scientists has been able to shed new light on the properties of water at the molecular level.

How molecules self-assemble into superstructures
Most technical functional units are built bit by bit according to a well-designed construction plan.

Breaking down stubborn molecules
Seawater is more than just saltwater. The ocean is a veritable soup of chemicals.

Shaping the rings of molecules
Canadian chemists discover a natural process to control the shape of 'macrocycles,' molecules of large rings of atoms, for use in pharmaceuticals and electronics.

The mysterious movement of water molecules
Water is all around us and essential for life. Nevertheless, research into its behaviour at the atomic level -- above all how it interacts with surfaces -- is thin on the ground.

Spectroscopy: A fine sense for molecules
Scientists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics have developed a unique laser technology for the analysis of the molecular composition of biological samples.

Looking at the good vibes of molecules
Label-free dynamic detection of biomolecules is a major challenge in live-cell microscopy.

Colliding molecules and antiparticles
A study by Marcos Barp and Felipe Arretche from Brazil published in EPJ D shows a model of the interaction between positrons and simple molecules that is in good agreement with experimental results.

Read More: Molecules News and Molecules Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to