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Scientists Built This Nerve Agent Detector Using Lego Blocks And A Smartphone

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Researchers have designed a low-budget nerve agent detector that can sense dangerous chemicals using a small rig that consists of a smartphone and a box made of Lego blocks.

Nerve Agents

Nerve agents are deadly and usually tasteless and odorless chemicals. They can cause severe illness and even death in just minutes by preventing the nervous system from working properly, such as by disrupting the transmission of nerve impulses.

Exposure to just small quantities of these highly poisonous substances may cause pinprick pupils and spasms. They come in the form of gas, powder, and liquid form.

The chemical is widely used in chemical warfare because it is stable, extremely toxic, can be easily dispersed, and causes quick effects. They are also relatively cheap and easy to make.

Nerve Agent Detector Made Of Lego Bricks And A Smartphone

A team of researchers have designed a nerve agent detector that can potentially help save lives.

Study researcher Eric Anslyn, from the University of Texas at Austin, and colleagues combined a chemical sensor with a smartphone camera and housed this sensor inside a small box made of Lego brick to build the equipment. Other pieces the researchers used for the device include an ultraviolet light and standard 96-well test plate.

The sensor generates different colors and levels of brightness that indicate the presence of different types of toxic gases, and the smartphone camera captures the sensor's different fluorescent responses.

"In essence, our device and method replace standard 96-well plate readers," Anslyn and colleagues wrote in their study, which was published in the journal ACS Central Science on June 27.

"Thus, our fluorescent self-propagating cascades and image processing result in a very simple and efficient portable use of common cell phones, with broad real-world field applications."

Identifying Type And Amount Of Nerve Agents

The researchers said that the inexpensive and portable device can help first responders and field scientist detect deadly and difficult-to-detect nerve agents such as sarin and VX.

The different colors and brightness, for instance, can signal first responders which nerve agent is present and how much. Knowing this is crucial since different categories of nerve agents have different decontamination procedures and different treatment.

"Unfortunately, it can be difficult to see differences in the level of fluorescence with the naked eye in the field. And instruments used in the lab to measure fluorescence are not portable and cost $30,000," said study researcher Xiaolong Sun, from the University of Texas at Austin. "This device essentially takes photographs of the glowing."

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