Detect Hazardous Agents on the Battlefield with Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is an important part of a hazardous agent mitigation system being developed by the United States military.

Hazardous agents are any chemical or biological materials present in the environment. For soldiers, hazardous agents might come from chemical or biological weapons or an environmental disaster. The Protection and Hazard Mitigation program of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) is focused on possibilities for detecting hazardous agents and alerting troops to their presence.

In the hazard mitigation system being developed, a sensor detects an agent and responds by taking action to detoxify or isolate the agent. It then generates a signal to an observer. Nanoscale materials may be used in the decontamination portion of this system in a few ways, working at the molecular level.

Another method of protecting troops from agents uses their own clothing to destroy toxins and prevent the toxins from penetrating the clothing to reach skin. Using antimicrobial reactive additives as a part of a fabric, researchers hope to destroy toxic bacterial agents when they appear.

In addition, a catalytic system would destroy toxic chemical agents. When a soldier is exposed to an agent, fabrics made from nanomaterials could help to restrict the diffusion of the toxic agent by shrinking the size of the pores in the fabric.

Wearing clothing that seals itself only when a toxic agent is present also allows moisture from perspiration to evaporate through the clothing most of the time. This means that soldiers won’t feel like they’re walking around in a sauna when toxic agents aren’t present.

Researchers are also developing nanofiber mats that can filter a hazardous agent. The toxic chemical or bacterial molecules become attached to the nanofibers, while air is allowed to flow through the nanofiber mat. These mats could be used either as protective clothing or in face masks.

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