Chemists at Pennsylvania State University have been doing some remarkable work to create self-propelled nanobots, and lately the investigators have focused their attention on using nanobots to stop nerve agent attacks. The nanobots intake chemical compounds, react with them, and push the product of the reaction out of one end. This makes the nanobots move in a fluid, kind of like jet propelled submarines. But when these same nanobots are stuck to a surface, though, they no longer move and end up working as pumps, pulling fluid in and pushing it right out.
The team believes that this ability can make clothing that reacts only when a dangerous chemical is about, automatically releasing counter chemicals and an antidote into the air of the person wearing the clothing.
To demonstrate the idea, the Penn State team added organophosphorus acid anhydrolase, an enzyme that can help to destroy organophosphate nerve agents, to a gel that also has the antidote. When an organophosphate nerve agent is sprayed over this material, it activates the enzyme and it pumps the nerve agents inside itself and eats them up, all while releasing the antidote.
Since the reaction is powered by the combination of enzyme and nerve agent, it doesn’t require any other power source and the material will not function until the nerve agent is present.