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Researchers Introduce Fluorescent Chemical Weapons Detector

Photonics Spectra
Jan 1999
Chemists at the University of Maryland in College Park have developed a method for detecting lethal chemical weapons in a system that uses molecules that fluoresce in the presence of a small amount of phosphate esters.
Many current detectors are highly sensitive and effective in detecting chemicals that attack acetylcholine esterase, an enzyme in the body that controls muscle contraction. The problem is they also detect less-lethal chemicals such as pesticides.
The new system uses molecules that react specifically with volatile fluoro- and cyano- phosphate esters -- the active ingredients in nerve agents like sarin. The research team, led by Robert S. Pilato, is testing the molecules against chemical weapon mimics. The next step will be to test the molecules against the actual chemical agents.


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