• DetectionNew tool to detect deadly chemical weapon agents: Butterflies

    Every spring caterpillars shed their cocoons, emerging as butterflies. This timeless symbol of change is now being applied to enhanced chemical detection for U.S. soldiers. Researchers from the military service academies, funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department, are using butterflies to detect trace amounts of chemical warfare agents with increased precision and speed.

  • Chemical weaponsFuture of testing and treating chlorine gas attacks

    As experts sort through questions around recent chemical attacks in Syria, future answers to quickly testing and treating those who may have been exposed to chlorine gas may lie in chlorinated lipids, says a scientist.

  • The Russia connectionRussia tested using door handles to deliver nerve agent before its agents attacked Skripal

    The U.K. on Friday released previously classified intelligence that show that Russia had tested whether door handles could be used to deliver nerve agents and had targeted the email accounts of Sergei and Yulia Skripal since at least 2013. The information about the door handle and email was made in a letter from Sir Mark Sedwill, the U.K.’s national security adviser, to NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg. It is highly unusual for the U.K. to make such intelligence public, but the U.K. government appears to have concluded that such a move was necessary to counter the effective lies-and-disinformation campaign Russia has been conducting in an effort to deny its operatives has poisoned Skripel and his daughter.

  • Chemical weaponsGerman company defies U.S., continues sending Iran parts used in Syria chemical attacks

    A German company involved in Syrian chemical attacks has defied a warning from the United States and continues trading with Iran. A Syrian photographer had found parts made by German company Krempel in Iranian-produced chemical rockets that were used in chemical warfare against Syrian civilians in January and February.

  • SyriaDozens killed in Syrian army chemical-weapons attack on rebel-held town

    More than seventy civilians have been killed and more than 500 injured by a poisonous gas attack launched by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against the rebel-held town of Douma. Syrian army helicopters had dropped several barrel bombs filled with chemicals on Douma, in eastern Ghouta, the last rebel-held stronghold in Syria. The Syrian army used both chlorine and nerve agents in the attack.

  • U.K. spy attackDeny and distort: A timeline of Russia's changing story on Skripal poisoning

    Since the poisoning of the Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter on 4 March in England, Russian officials have been consistent about one thing: Moscow didn’t do it. Otherwise, they have offered a hodgepodge of theories, evasions, and refutations to parry British accusations that a Soviet-era nerve agent was likely used to poison Skripal and his daughter. British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said on 19 March that Moscow was “not fooling anyone” with its “increasingly absurd” denials of culpability for use of the nerve agent on British soil. Vladimir Putin was trying to “conceal the needle of truth in a haystack of lies and obfuscation,” Johnson said.

  • U.K. spy attackExpelled Russian diplomats head home as U.K. mulls further poisoning response

    Twenty-three Russian diplomats who were ordered out of Britain in response to the poisoning of a former spy with a deadly nerve agent are leaving the Britain. In addition to expelling the Russian diplomats, Britain has suspended high-level bilateral contacts with Moscow and announced that British ministers and the royal family will not attend the soccer World Cup in Russia this summer.

  • Fuel spillsLiving sensor may prevent environmental disasters from fuel spills

    The Colonial Pipeline, which carries fuel from Texas to New York, ruptured last fall, dumping a quarter-million gallons of gas in rural Alabama. By the time the leak was detected during routine inspection, vapors from released gasoline were so strong they prevented pipeline repair for days. Now, scientists are developing technology that would alert pipeline managers about leaks as soon as failure begins, avoiding the environmental disasters and fuel distribution disruptions resulting from pipeline leaks.

  • U.K. spy attackNerve agent was placed in former spy’s BMW ventilation system: U.S. intel

    The former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, may have been exposed to a deadly nerve agent through his car’s ventilation system, ABC News reports. The two remain in critical condition in hospital after being exposed to the nerve agent novichok in Salisbury, in the U.K., two weeks ago. ABC News reported that intelligence officials had said the “dusty” substance used was likely placed in the ventilation system of the BMW Skripal was driving.

  • U.K. spy attackU.K.'s Johnson says Putin probably behind ex-spy attack; Kremlin lashes out

    British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said it is “overwhelmingly likely” that Russian President Vladimir Putin made the decision to use a highly toxic chemical against a former double agent in England. “We have nothing against the Russians themselves. There is to be no Russophobia as a result of what is happening,” Johnson said on 16 March6, nearly two weeks after former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were exposed to what British authorities say was a potent nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union. “Our quarrel is with Putin’s Kremlin, and with his decision — and we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision — to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the U.K., on the streets of Europe for the first time since the Second World War,” Johnson said.

  • U.K. spy attackFrench expert says novichok toxin is “clearly a direct link to Russia”

    Novichok, the toxic nerve agent that British authorities believe was used in the near-fatal poisoning of former spy and retired Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal, is a powerful substance that is exceedingly difficult to manufacture. This is why a growing number of chemical weapons experts say it is highly likely that only a government could have the technology and infrastructure to make it. And given that the Soviet Union, in the 1980s, was the only state known to have produced it, that has led many experts to conclude that Russian intelligence was behind Skripal’s poisoning.

  • DetectionExpanding real-time radiological threat detection to include other dangers

    Advanced commercially available technologies—such as additive manufacturing (3-D printing), small-scale chemical reactors for pharmaceuticals, and CRISPR gene-manipulation tools—have opened wide access to scientific exploration and discovery. In the hands of terrorists and rogue nation states, however, these capabilities could be misused to concoct chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in small quantities and in form factors that are hard to detect. DARPA’s SIGMA+ program aims to create additional sensors and networks to detect biological, chemical, and explosives threats.

  • Termination with extreme prejudiceBritain deploys specialist troops in city where ex-Russian spy collapsed

    Britain has deployed specialist troops to remove potentially contaminated objects from the site where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious after a suspected nerve-agent attack. Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, have been in hospital since they were found on a bench outside a shopping center in the southern English city of Salisbury on 4 March.

  • Termination with extreme prejudiceToxicologist: Lab with “military capability” likely made poison used on Russian ex-spy

    British investigators have announced that a “nerve agent” was used in an attempt to murder Russian former spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury on 4 March. But they have not specified what nerve agent was used in the attack. Alastair Hay, a professor of environmental toxicology and a member of the British government’s advisory group on chemical warfare agents, said about the likely source of the toxic substance: “I think it’s more a case in which we are talking about a military capability. If you are a diligent chemist, you will find procedures for making sarin and tabun and various other chemical agents. But there’s the complexity in making it and how efficient the reaction is. And, of course, there is the risk of exposure in making something, too. So containment to make sure that the laboratory person is not exposed is absolutely crucial. So I think, really, what one is looking at here is probably more a military-type manufacture. But again, we just have to wait and see.”

  • Nerve agentsNerve agents: what are they and how do they work?

    By Simon Cotton

    The first nerve agents were invented by accident in the 1930s when researchers were trying to make cheaper and better alternatives to nicotine as insecticides. In their search, German scientists made two organic compounds containing phosphorus that were very effective at killing insect pests. However, they soon discovered that, even in minuscule amounts, the substances caused distressing symptoms in humans exposed to them. The two substances – too toxic to be used as commercial insecticides in agriculture – became known as tabun and sarin. Since then, other nerve agents have been developed, but much less is known about them, although they are thought to work in broadly the same way. Unlike street drugs, nerve agents cannot be made in your kitchen or garden shed, on account of their toxicity, even in tiny amounts. Synthesis of nerve agents requires a specialist laboratory, with fume cupboards. As more details emerge from the case of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, we’ll know more about the precise substance used and how it should be tackled. Either way, nerve agents are horrendously lethal and chemical warfare is an obscene use of chemicals.