CORVALLIS, Ore. – Breakthrough research at Oregon State University could help in the fight against chemical weapons, after scientists found a method that kills deadly gases before they touch the skin – paving the way for special clothing and masks that could be resistant to nerve agents.
The United Nations says various types of chemical weapons have been used in Syria within the last year, attacking victims’ nervous systems.
“The common characteristic that every nerve gas has is that it has a bond between a phosphorous and a fluorine,” said May Nyman, an OSU Associate Professor of Chemistry. “So when this contacts moisture, like skin or lungs when it’s breathed in, it converts to hydrofluoric acid, which is very dangerous.”
But what if there is a way to shield from the gases by wearing a certain type of fabric or mask?
“The polyoxoniobate compound replaces that P-F bond with a P-Hydroxide bond,” Nyman said.
A breakthrough discovery: when polyoxoniobates come in contact with a nerve gas, they inactivate it. A discovery Nyman says could be used in military or civilian clothing or masks to resist chemical weapons.
“They can do that reaction there, and therefore when the nerve gas reaches your skin or your lungs, it’s no longer dangerous,” she said. “It’s been inactivated.”
Nyman and Lauren Fullmer, a graduate student at OSU, are now working together to figure out how to make the best material possible.
“If it’s used by the military for instance, or even civilians, just incorporated into protective clothing that they wear every day, it can save lives,” Nyman said.
She says fabrics have other molecules that attract the compound, which means it would not wash away if it got wet.
Nyman is also working with the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, a U.S. Army facility, to conduct testing.