To detect many of these weaponizable biological agents (WBA), a sensor must be able to identify a pathogen at a measurement of parts per trillion. Technology available during the Gulf War only allowed measurements of parts per billion.
A novel sensor, developed by two Virginia Tech engineering faculty members, is now capable of literally identifying "a needle in a haystack," says William Velander, one of the inventors. His device has showed results that are 20 times more powerful than previous sensing devices.
Velander, a biochemical engineer who heads Virginia Tech's Pharmaceutical Engineering Institute, teamed with Kent Murphy, a fiber optics expert and a member of the electrical engineering department, to develop the prototype biosensor.
To develop the new biosensor, Velandar expanded upon some of his previous work. He adapted a technology he invented that is employed to purify pharmaceuticals present in blood plasma at trace levels. By combining his scientific process with an optical fiber sensing device, Velander and Murphy have found that they can "capture biological warfare agents" that were previously undetectable.
For example, the prototype biosensor detects endotoxin at a level that is 20 times lower than previously achieved by other devices. "Endotoxin is composed of compounds called lipopolysaccharides found in bacteria such as E.coli. The presence of endotoxin from a blood borne infection (sepsis) of a gram negative bacteria can cause clotting, organ failure and subsequent death," Velander explains.
Velander estimates there are several hundred WBAs that currently exist that can
induce battlefield and civilian casualties that can
Contact: Bill Velander