Public Release: 

Enlisting carbon nanotubes to unmask nerve agents

Yuehe Lin, a PNNL chief scientist, reports the successful lab test of a disposable nerve-agent sensor he fashioned from carbon nanotubes

DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

ANAHEIM, Calif.--Besides posing a serious environmental hazard, organophosphate-based pesticides, or OP compounds, are raw material for chemical-warfare nerve agents. Crews responding to a terrorist's nerve-agent attack have had no way to identify the compound they're dealing with until it's too late.

Yuehe Lin, a chief scientist at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., reported Sunday at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society the successful lab test of a disposable OP sensor he fashioned from carbon nanotubes chemically fused to enzymes borrowed from the nervous system-the same enzymes that act as catalysts in neurotransmitters. The 500-nanometer-thick tubes and their bound enzymes finely pepper a 2-by-4 millimeter sensor surface. In the presence of OP, enzyme activity is dampened. The nanotubes, acting as electrodes, sense the inhibition as a muted signal and pass that information to an off-the-shelf electrochemical detector that houses the sensor. The detector is hooked up to a notebook computer for an instant reading of even traces of OP, to as few as 5 parts per billion.


PNNL is a DOE Office of Science laboratory that solves complex problems in energy, national security, the environment and life sciences by advancing the understanding of physics, chemistry, biology and computation. PNNL employs 3,800, has a $600 million annual budget, and has been managed by Ohio-based Battelle since the lab's inception in 1965.

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