Innovative project harnesses Legos and smartphones in the fight against invisible, deadly weapons - World Truth

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Innovative project harnesses Legos and smartphones in the fight against invisible, deadly weapons

Why Legos? To get a good reading on the camera, a box to constrict light is necessary. Pedro Metola, a clinical assistant professor at UT Austin, came up with the idea of using Legos. They’re readily available, lightweight and relatively inexpensive compared to alternatives like 3D printers.

Here on U.S. home soil, hefty price tags on detection devices impact the ability of local law enforcement to have an arsenal ready for widespread distribution in an emergency. These devices can be very expensive and not something many police departments could afford.

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So how does it work?

Eric Anslyn, a chemistry professor at UT Austin, has created remarkable chemical compounds that neutralize nerve agents – and expose the hidden danger. This makes the otherwise invisible nerve agents glow so they can be seen by the naked eye.

Each nerve agent yields a slightly different color and brightness thanks to amazing fluorescence generating chemical sensors.  First responders can use this to reveal which nerve agent is being used in an attack, detect where it is located and identify how much has been deployed.

However, these variations can’t be distinguished by the naked eye – that’s where the smartphone camera comes in.

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A smartphone camera is sensitive enough to detect the differences in color and brightness in the glowing reaction.

After the smartphone has taken a photo of the “glowing,” object, specially developed software analyzes color and brightness. It then provides the first responder with the type of the nerve agent and its concentration.

Within minutes, it can detect and identify different nerve agents.

Making American cities uninhabitable

Imagine this scenario. What if a terrorist unleashed a nerve agent in New York City subway cars, buses and taxis. If a nerve agent is engineered to linger, then the scale the attack would be staggering. The weapon could continue its attack beyond the first day and could theoretically be dangerous and lethal for months.

Nerve agent side effects will vary depending on factors like the type of agent used and the method of contact. If someone inhales a nerve agent, then the victim will most likely die almost instantly. If you touch a bus handrail that has been contaminated, then this small exposure to the skin may seem like nothing – and yet horrid delayed side effects may begin to develop.

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Even a small drop on the skin of nerve agents like sarin can cause sweating and muscle twitching at point of contact. Larger exposure can lead to loss of consciousness, convulsions, paralysis and respiratory failure. It can be fatal.

Antidotes must be provided quickly for the best chance at recovery.

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Impossible? Nerve agents aren’t a threat anymore

Chemical weapon attacks have been confirmed in Syria. But an attack of this kind may seem unthinkable outside of war zones. The current unfolding incident in the U.K. suggests otherwise. The allegedly Russian-launched nerve agent attack seems to have stayed active and lethal for months.

Europol also recently confirmed that extremist terrorist groups such as ISIS have been making efforts to acquire chemical weapons.

In the hypothetical New York City attack, if the sources couldn’t be tracked down quickly and neutralized, the consequences would be wide reaching. Residents, for example, would be terrified to touch anything. It would make folks scared to live, work or visit the city.  An attack like this could empty a city of inhabitants – and for how long? Even after decontamination, folks would be reluctant to return.

When first responders enter the potential attack region searching for the weapon and source of attack, it is no easy task. Retracing the victim’s steps, they could have vast areas to cover. Search efforts would be hindered by limited detection devices due to the hefty price tags.

Ingenious field-expedient solutions to provide more detection and better identification are a smart way to protect Americans.

Allison Barrie is a defense specialist with experience in more than 70 countries who consults at the highest levels of defense and national security, a lawyer with four postgraduate degrees, and author of the definitive guide, Future Weapons: Access Granted, on sale in 30 countries.  Barrie hosts the new hit podcast “Tactical Talk”  where she gives listeners direct access to the most fascinating Special Operations warriors each week and to find out more about the FOX Firepower host and columnist you can click here or follow her on Twitter @allison_barrie and Instagram @allisonbarriehq.