Anthrax, sarin, ricin, Ebola, hydrogen cyanide; there’s no shortage of chemical and biological weapons that could be used to wipe out populations, representing a continuing global concern. Coming up with effective ways to combat these nasty agents is therefore necessary to help alleviate the threat, but this is often easier said than done. However, scientists at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) are on the case, and have developed an intriguing way to combat these weapons: miniature rockets.
As described in ACS Nano, the team made their neutralizing rockets by coating magnesium with titanium dioxide. These microspheres feature a tiny pocket that exposes the magnesium to water, initiating a reaction that results in the production of a small bubble that propels the rockets through the fluid. This water-driven propulsion allows for the rapid transport and dispersion of the micromotors. When activated by light, the tiny balls produce destructive molecules called reactive oxygen species, which rapidly neutralize the agents.
The researchers tested their method on two well-known weapons: sarin and Bacillus globigii, which is a simulant of anthrax. They found that they rapidly degraded both the agents, without producing any toxic waste material. An added bonus is that no other reagents were required for the spheres to carry out their job.
“It needs no external stimuli, just expose it to seawater, it then generates a bubble and moves around,” said lead researcher Joseph Wang. “In the past, people needed external fuel but here we use seawater as fuel.”
According to the team, the spheres could also potentially be put to use in other situations, such as cleaning up environmental contamination. Furthermore, similar systems could be developed as a way to tackle certain diseases, for example by designing them to target cancer cells or filling them with drugs.