Monday, November 3, 2014

Microrockets disarm chemical and biological agents

Nanoengineering professor Joseph Wang's Laboratory for Nanobioelectronics has developed microrockets that can neutralize chemical and biological agents such as sarin and anthrax. The microrockets can also decontaminate environmental waste.

Image courtesy of American Chemical Society.
 The research team's work was published recently in the journal ACS Nano and has been getting a lot of attention in the media.

The rockets are powered by seawater.  BBC News explains:
  The rocket is made from magnesium coated with titanium dioxide. A small eye-like opening exposes the magnesium which reacts with the seawater causing a "bubble propulsion" effect which powers it forward. This propulsion then enables titanium dioxide to react and break down chemical and biological agents. Titanium dioxide is already known for its amazing ability to break down pollutants. It has previously been used for self-cleaning windows and engineers have even coated cotton with the chemical in an attempt to make clothes clean themselves.

Laboratory Equipment gets into the details of a solution that relies on titanium dioxide:
Joseph Wang and colleagues from UC San Diego point out that titanium dioxide is one of the most promising materials available for degrading chemical and biological warfare agents. It doesn't require harsh chemicals or result in toxic by-products. Current approaches using titanium dioxide, however, require that it be mixed in whatever solution that needs to be decontaminated.
But there's no way to actively mix titanium dioxide in waterways if chemical and biological agents are released into the environment. So, scientists have been working on ways to propel titanium dioxide around to accelerate the decontamination process without the need for active stirring. But approaches so far have required fuel and other compounds that hinder neutralization. Wang's team wanted to fix this problem.
 Read more in Inside Science.

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