A group of researchers has using a simple setup consisting of a smartphone and a box made of Legos. This invention could help first responders identify potential neurotoxins faster and make treatment quicker and more effective.
Neurotoxins come in many different types. Anthrax, sarin gas, VX, and others can all be deadly but work in different ways. Crucially, the antidotes to these neurotoxins are different, which means first responders need to know exactly what chemical they’re dealing with as quickly as possible.
The best way to determine what neurotoxin is present is to mix it with an indicator chemical. These chemicals glow faintly when mixed with certain neurotoxins, and the color and brightness of that glow changes depending on the neurotoxin. These color and brightness changes are pretty subtle, however, and human eyes alone aren’t good enough to tell the difference.
“Unfortunately, it can be difficult to see differences in the level of fluorescence with the naked eye in the field,” said researcher Xiaolong Sun. “And instruments used in the lab to measure fluorescence are not portable and cost $30,000.”
That’s where the smartphone and Legos come in. Smartphone cameras are good enough to detect the small changes in color and brightness with the indicator chemical, and with a specialized box—made of Legos, of course—to keep the sample in the dark, scientists and first responders can identify neurotoxins quickly and cheaply. Hopefully they never have to use it.