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New 'chemical radar' among national security innovations in ACS podcast

WASHINGTON, Sept. 4, 2008 As the anniversary of the September 11 attacks approaches, the American Chemical Society (ACS) has issued a new podcast describing an array of technologies to help assure personal safety and national security. The podcast is the sixth episode in ACS's acclaimed Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions)series.

With new episodes posted twice monthly, Global Challenges examines daunting problems facing society in the 21st Century, and explains how chemists and other scientists are making strides toward solutions.

The podcast, entitled Promoting Personal Safety & National Security, describes 2008 scientific advances toward protecting society from future terrorist attacks, and individuals from common everyday threats such as disease-causing bacteria on keyboards, kitchen countertops, and other environmental surfaces.

One segment, for instance, focuses on scientific advances toward early detection of bioterrorism attacks with biological threats that the National Institutes of Health calls Category A agents. Those materials include biological agents such as botulism toxin and infectious agents such as anthrax and smallpox.

Global Challenges recalls the introduction of radar, which gave 20th century society its first method for early detection of incoming enemy ships and planes. "Today, researchers are developing what might be called chemical radar," the podcast notes. "Instead of using radio waves to see distant bombers and battleships, these new technologies use laser beams to detect atmospheric chemical weapons." The technology could be useful for detecting nerve agents drifting into an area in a suspicious-looking cloud and distinguishing them from chemically similar but harmless pesticides that might have been sprayed on a farm field, the podcast notes.

Other research featured in this episode of Global Challenges includes:

  • Development of an "optical fingerprinting" technique for early detection of smallpox, anthrax, and other bioterrorism agents. The device could be used in football stadiums, airports, shopping malls, areas where large numbers of people might be exposed to attacks.

  • A new rapid detection method for ricin, a dangerous plant toxin found in castor beans with no known antidote. With 100 million pounds of castor bean waste produced annually, a potential source of the toxin is readily available. The test detects minute quantities of castor bean DNA.

  • A rugged antibacterial coating made of carbon nanotubes coated with a natural microbe-fighting substance known as lysozyme that scientists long have dreamed of using to battle pathogens. The coating can be applied to a variety of surfaces, and withstands common household cleaners.

The podcasts are available without charge for listening on computers and downloading to portable digital audio devices at iTunes and other podcasting sites. They also can be accessed on ACS's Global Challenges web site. The site provides audio links and full transcripts of each podcast. Additional resources on each Global Challenges topic also are available, on the site, including information for consumers, students, and educators.

Other Global Challenges topics to date include:

  • Providing safe drinking water. Scientific advances promise to help almost 1.2 billion people in developing countries who lack access to pure water, and ensure safe water supplies for people in developed countries.

  • Fresh water from the sea. Almost 97 per cent of Earth's water is salty water in the oceans and brackish water inland. Advances in water desalination technology are making more of this water available for drinking, agriculture, and industry.

  • Confronting climate change now. Stopgap measures offer the potential for near-term responses to global warming. They include technology for capturing carbon dioxide from smoke stacks and socking it away in deep ocean repositories.

  • Confronting climate change tomorrow. Permanent solutions to global warming include advances toward harnessing the chemical magic of plants photosynthesis to turn water and sunlight into an abundant supply of clean fuel.

  • Our sustainable future. New scientific discoveries are paving the way toward a society that provides for the needs of people today, while assuring that natural resources and a healthy environment is there for future generations.


Contact: Charmayne Marsh
American Chemical Society

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