CCDC Chemical Biological Center Researchers Shine a Light on Wearable Technology

LEDs spark decontamination process

CCDC Chemical Biological Center Public Affairs | July 26th, 2019

Co-primary investigators, Hui Wang, Ph.D. and John Landers, Ph.D. hope to fight chemical warfare agents with light. Photo by Shawn Nesaw.

Co-primary investigators, Hui Wang, Ph.D. and John Landers, Ph.D. hope to fight chemical warfare agents with light. Photo by Shawn Nesaw.

Researchers at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) Chemical Biological Center are looking to LEDs to help warfighters battle against chemical warfare agents. Co-primary investigators, Hui Wang, Ph.D. and John Landers, Ph.D. are investigating ways to embed tiny light sources in warfighter uniforms.

“This project is based upon Dr. Wang’s research published in the scientific journal American Chemical Society Applied Materials and Interfaces, where he relayed how light-emitting diodes (LEDs), in conjunction with photosensitive dyes, could be used to enhance the degradation of chemical warfare agents like mustard gas,” Landers said.

Chemical weapons like mustard gas (HD) have been a part of warfighting for over a century. Their use has increased over the last two decades both in warfare and in focused assassinations and attempted assassinations. Enhancing warfighter safety by detecting chemical warfare agents and decontaminating items that come in contact with them is an ever-present focus of the CCDC Chemical Biological Center.

In addition to the work published by the American Chemical Society, the pair also entered Wang’s research into the Center’s Innovative Development of Employee Advanced Solutions (IDEAS) Program designed to give researchers with promising new ideas seed money to develop them. It was one of eight projects chosen from a field of 17 to receive funding.

The LEDs work by way of photocatalysis, meaning that the light acts as a co-catalyst in the degradation of the CWA.

“Some chemicals break down under light and some chemicals break down even easier under certain wavelengths of light, let’s say a red LED, a green LED and blue LED,” Landers explained. “The purpose of the blue LED is to activate a dye that in turn generates a reactive oxygen that breaks down these chemical agents.”

Wang and Landers’ work with boron-dipyrromethene (BODIPY), an organic compound that acts as a photosensitizer – a molecule that brings about a chemical change in another molecule (decontamination of the HD molecule in this case) in the presence of light.

“The LED initiates the reaction, activating the dye-like BODIPY and the BODIPY, when exposed to LED light, converts the nearby oxygen to a more reactive form,” Wang explains further. “It’s that reactive oxygen that breaks down the chemical agent. It all begins with the LED.”

Because warfighter safety often relies on stealth, Wang and Landers realized that light emitted from LEDs would need obscuration.

“Instead of taking an LED and applying it to the surface of clothing, we will incorporate small LEDs with an ink jet-printed circuit between layers of a uniform allowing the LEDs to safely activate if a warfighter suspects an agent threat,” Landers said.

Conductive, flexible, silver ink circuitry printed on fabric will allow LEDs to be embedded within uniforms. The light initiates a chemical reaction that destroys chemical warfare agents, but is not visible to enemy forces. Photo by Shawn Nesaw. Conductive, flexible, silver ink circuitry printed on fabric will allow LEDs to be embedded within uniforms. The light initiates a chemical reaction that destroys chemical warfare agents, but is not visible to enemy forces. Photo by Shawn Nesaw.

The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center (CCDC Chemical Biological Center) is the Army’s principal research and development center for chemical and biological defense technology, engineering and field operations. The Center has achieved major technological advances for the warfighter and for our national defense, with a long and distinguished history of providing the armed forces with quality systems and outstanding customer service. The CCDC Chemical Biological Center is located at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.