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December 15th, 2008
The deployment of chemical weapons in an urban population center isn't simply a hypothetical threat; it has actually happened, most notably in Tokyo. Protection of first responders from toxic and corrosive chemicals usually comes in the form of bulky suits. Outside of suits, there are some other ways to prevent skin exposure like using ointments and creams that neutralize toxins, but, topical treatments are not ideal, as they may require frequent reapplication, and they could end up penetrating the skin to become a health risk themselves.
Chemically modified clothing could be a more effective form of protection, as it would be more accessible than a specialized suit and provide better coverage than a skin cream. Perhaps most importantly, modifications can give clothing the ability to decontaminate warfare agents by catalyzing chemical reactions at its surface. French scientists, led by Valérie Keller, sought to enhance textiles with carbon nanotubes to make clothes that can deactivate chemical warfare agents.
Keller and his colleagues chose a system that utilizes solar energy to catalyze reactions. By using layer-by-layer deposition, they were able to create a homogenous and thin layer of nanotube material (titanate nanotubes impregnated with tungstate salt) atop mundane textile fibers. The ingredients necessary for making the nanotubes are commercially available and layer-by-layer deposition is a well known technique. The authors claim that their method "offers the advantages of low-cost preparation with high-throughput layer fabrication."
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