A team from the Institute of Molecular Sciences (ICMol) at the University of Valencia has succeeded in synthesizing a new porous material that helps break down compounds similar to nerve agents used in chemical weapons. This material will allow the capture and decomposition of compounds of this type, which until now could not be removed. The work of scientists is published in the journal Chem.
Nerve agents are highly toxic chemicals that poison and disrupt the body’s central nervous system. They act quickly, with effects ranging from dizziness to death. An example of these agents is sarin, a synthetic compound classified as a weapon of mass destruction. It has already been used more than once in terrorist attacks, for example, in the Tokyo subway in 1995 or, more recently, in the Ghouta massacre in 2013 as part of the war in Syria. Currently, activated carbon is the reference material for capturing these gases, which allows them to be retained but not removed.
The ICMol team, led by Carlos Marti-Gastaldo, works with porous materials called MOFs (metal-organic frameworks). Their versatility allows you to create new materials by changing their properties. Thus, the scientists managed to synthesize a new family of highly efficient and chemically stable MOFs (MUV-101) They are able to decompose the gas analog of sarin in a way that is very similar to fermentation, using primarily biological catalysts.
“In the laboratory, we use nerve agent analogs to avoid the problems associated with their apparent toxicity. This is why we are working with foreign defense agencies to make sure this decomposition can be extrapolated to the sarin gas itself”, explains Martí-Gastaldo.
The stability and efficiency of these engineered molecular compounds were achieved through the inclusion of titanium and iron in their structure. Research shows that both metals are much more active together than separately. This is precisely what makes it possible to achieve cooperative catalysis. It, in turn, provides an efficient decomposition of the nerve agent in water without the need for any special or additional medium.
The new materials are already patented and can be easily integrated into protective suits or gas masks. For this reason, they can be of great security interest, both for protecting countries from chemical weapons threats and environmental damage, as well as for personal protection against strong insecticides or for the purpose of disinfecting water.