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Catalyst renders nerve agents harmless

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.


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