Researchers at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) in the US and CSIRO Manufacturing in Australia have designed a new rubber glove equipped with highly stretchable sensors that will be able to detect dangerous nerve agents like sarin and VX during events like terrorist attacks or food contamination.
DNA is part of the chemical group known as organophosphates, but so are powerful insecticides used in farming and nerve agents used in chemical warfare and attacks. The second two categories are what concerned the UCSD researchers, who set out to find a quick, cost-effective and easy way to spot the chemical agents in the field.
UCSD researchers worked with CSIRO, Australia’s largest patent holder, to design a unique rubber glove that has highly stretchable sensors printed on the forefinger and a swab printed on the thumb.
When an inspector is searching for organophosphate contamination either from a suspected attack or from cross-contamination on food products, he simply uses his thumb to swap the area. The thumb is then brought to the index finger where the sensors use an embedded enzyme to analyse the sample.
If it contains the poison, the electrodes carry a signal triggered by a chemical reaction to a Bluetooth transmitter mounted on the glove, which is then beamed to a receiving device like a smartphone. The glove is disposable, so when handled properly, it can reduce the risk of spreading the dangerous chemicals.
In tests, the glove was able to identify the organophosphate pesticides methyl parathion and methyl paraoxon on a wide range of surfaces including glass, wood and plastic, as well as on produce.
The researchers say that future efforts will focus on shrinking down the electronics with a ring-based device as well as expanding the glove’s ability to detect other harmful compounds.