Northwestern scientists discover material to protect from toxic gases


Daily file photo by Brian Meng

Technological Institute, 2145 Sheridan Road. Northwestern scientists are working toward creating a suit that degrades toxins similar to sarin.

Yunkyo Kim, Assistant Campus Editor

Northwestern scientists believe they can develop protective suits that provide protection from chemical warfare.

Toxic gasses — more powerful than sarin — can be dissolved within minutes when met with the zirconium-based framework. Omar Farha, associate professor of chemistry in Weinberg, led a team of 10 scientists in the research process.

Their study on the metal-organic frame, supported by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, was published in the Journal of American Chemical Society in December 2019.

“With the correct chemistry, we can render toxic gases nontoxic,” Farha said in a Northwestern news release. “The action takes place at the nanolevel.”

According to the research paper, the scientists claim that such utilization of the composite is the first instance of research that delves into degrading chemical toxins without using liquid water and volatile organic compounds.

The zirconium-based compound works to dissolve chemical toxins by pulling water molecules from the humidity in the air. It then enacts a chemical reaction in which the water is used to degrade the bonds of the nerve agent.

Northwestern scientists will continue to develop the nanomaterial to create toxin-dissolving suits. This would include working on replacing components of the current technology, which will make the compound faster in degrading nerve agents.

“[The compound] can capture, store and destroy a lot of the nasty material, making them very attractive for defense-related applications,” Farha said in the article.

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