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LabNotes -- Research highlights from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Nerve-gas fingerprints etched in light

In 1995 hundreds of Tokyo subway rescuers were exposed to the deadly nerve gas sarin hours before police confirmed its identity. Earlier this year, soldiers in Iraq worried about a similar fate. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory scientists have now come up with a way to warn commuters, emergency crews and troops about a toxic gas release. A device called a high resolution infrared spectrometer can be pointed at a suspect cloud to read light emitted and absorbed. Thanks to PNNL's highly precise catalog of chemical-agent spectral signatures, the instrument detects from the light the presence of sarin, soman, VX, mustard gas and other common nerve and blistering agents. National Institute of Standards and Technology researchers collaborated on recent tests of the PNNL system at Utah's Dugway Proving Ground.

Replicating cellular tissues

Petrified wood is formed over millions of years, creating basically a negative replica of the wood structure. Now, scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have found not only a way to mimic the mineralization process within a few hours, but to modify it in ways that may prove useful.

Instead of a solid rock-like copy, they have produced an exact replica with pores and channels. This process creates a "positive" replica of the living tissue in just a matter of hours. The microstructure provides enormous surface area -- about one football field per gram of material.

PNNL researchers have now coated these positive replicas with carbon, which could speed chemical reactions and thereby increase the yield of many industrial products, or serve as a separations platform to filter hazardous chemicals, like mercury, from the environment.

Genetic sleight-of-wing

Gnat-like flies called midges thrive in a healthy stream; in polluted water, their numbers diminish. Ecologists have come to rely on midge-species counts f
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Contact: Media Relations
greg.koller@pnl.gov
509-375-3776
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
28-Oct-2003


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