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ANFF in the war against terror Return to case studies page

Dr Yonggang Zhu
Safeguarding Australia
A device that can quickly and reliably detect sarin, the colourless and odourless gas responsible for the 1995 terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, has been developed at ANFF.

The “lab-on-a-chip” device looks set to boost national security and potentially save lives. Being compact it is a field-deployable chemical detector that can ‘fingerprint' sarin and other chemical warfare agents with high sensitivity, reliability and unprecedented speed.

Dr Yonggang Zhu, of CSIRO has won the 2012 Australian Museum Eureka Science Prize for Outstanding Science in Support of Defence or National Security for his efforts developing this technology. The prize was sponsored by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation and the win was announced by Defence Science Minister Warren Snowdon on 28th of August 2012.

Current methods of detecting sarin and other chemical warfare agents, such as gas chromatography, are difficult to use, have a high rate of false positive readings, and are too bulky to be deployed in the field. The prototype consists of a microfluidic device a few centimetres in size. With a sample of water, soil or a swab, it has demonstrated effective in generating highly accurate readings in approximately 30 seconds.

As well as being a novel technology the chip has been made using plastic with processes amenable to large-scale manufacture. This will allow the devices to be cheap and disposable. It will also mean that it can be deployed on a broad scale, all soldiers in an army or trains in a network could carry these devices.

“We know the business-end of the chip works. With further miniaturisation of the electronics and power supply, we expect to see a device the size of a mobile phone” said Dr Zhu.

“We also hope to integrate a wireless communication capability into the sensor board, for real-time monitoring of toxic chemicals, and to provide an early warning of a terrorist attack.”

This is an Australian-owned technology, with the main components manufactured using ANFF facilities. Dr Zhu is a Technology Fellow at the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication in the ANFF Victorian node. ANFF capabilities will be key in making this technology available to national security and defence agencies in the near future.