Nav: Home

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."
-end-
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.
-end-


American Chemical Society

Related Molecules Articles:

The inner lives of molecules
Researchers from Canada, the UK and Germany have developed a new experimental technique to take 3-D images of molecules in action.
Novel technique helps ID elusive molecules
Stuart Lindsay, a researcher at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, has devised a clever means of identifying carbohydrate molecules quickly and accurately.
How solvent molecules cooperate in reactions
Molecules from the solvent environment that at first glance seem to be uninvolved can be essential for chemical reactions.
A new way to display the 3-D structure of molecules
Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley Researchers have developed nanoscale display cases that enables new atomic-scale views of hard-to-study chemical and biological samples.
Bending hot molecules
Hot molecules are found in extreme environments such as the edges of fusion reactors.
More Molecules News and Molecules Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...