LEGO bricks may be used to help detect nerve gases in war zones

A study has shown that LEGO bricks could be used to detect nerve gas agents.

The University of Texas has conducted a study that reveals that LEGO bricks and a smartphone could be used to detect nerve agents. In situations such as the recent alleged attack in Syria, it is often too expensive to move traditional cumbersome equipment around.

Previous work had been done at the University by Eric Anslyn, a chemist, and his team. They developed a compound that would a specific colour depending which nerve agent it had been exposed to while also neutralising it. As well as confirming which nerve agent it corresponds to, the compound reveals the concentration of it.

Building on this research, Pedro Metola explained to Popular Science that the new device can get an accurate read on the colour that Anslyn’s compound glows, confirming the concentration of a nerve agent. The easiest and most portable way to build a dark box, that would be required for the smart phone to take an accurate reading using a UV lamp, would be to have a LEGO brick built one.

LEGO nerve agent device

The authors of the research say that LEGO bricks are key as they can be packed in a bag and taken anywhere, before being built up into the required box on site. Other options, such as 3D printing, would not be suitable in such volatile situations.

It is only a paper at the moment, with its findings yet to be tested with any substances, but it seems that LEGO bricks could prove an important tool for first responders in the future.


Graham was the Editor up until November 2020. He has plenty of experience working on LEGO related projects. He has contributed to various websites and publications on topics including niche hobbies, the toy industry and education. Follw Graham on Twitter @grahamh100.

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