Source: DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory
A team of scientists has studied a catalyst that decomposes nerve agents, eliminating their harmful and lethal effects.
Since CWAs were first used in World War I, scientists have been testing multiple methods of mitigating their toxic effects.
One of the most common methods is filtration, using an absorbent material, like a sponge, that would prevent the chemicals from spreading.
To dive deeper into this approach, the research team focused on the decontamination of sarin, a nerve agent that prevents muscles from contracting and relaxing.
Sarin inhibits an important enzyme in the body that plays a critical role in transmitting neuronal signals to the muscles
If those signals are compromised, muscles remain in the contracted form, which becomes fatal as key muscles, such as the heart, are unable to move.
In previous studies, chemists identified a group of materials called polyoxometalates (POMs) as a good candidate for decomposing nerve agents.
Now, researchers have tested a unique material, prepared by team members from Emory University, that has zirconium atoms connecting two POM molecules together.
Using computer models of the catalyst, the team's computational chemists at Virginia Tech and Emory University determined that the structural changes exposed zirconium atoms to sarin, and the sarin-zirconium interactions were found to be responsible for the decomposition of the nerve agent.