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Drs. Zhao, Oldham and Parsons Help Develop Fabric That Breaks Down Chemical Warfare Agents

Junjie Zhao
Dr. Zhao
Dr. Chris Oldham
Dr. Oldham

Alums Dr. Junjie Zhao (Ph.D. ’16) and Chris Oldham (B.S. ’02) and their research mentor, Dr. Greg Parsons, are members of a team that has created a fabric material containing nanoscale fibers capable of degrading chemical warfare agents (CWAs). The CWA degradation research was conducted by researchers in Professor Parsons’ group, and co-workers at RTI International and the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.

“Current technologies for addressing CWAs rely on carbon-based materials – but these carbon materials can only adsorb hazardous compounds, they can’t degrade them,” says Dr. Zhao, lead author of a paper on the work. “Our goal was to develop new materials that can detoxify these CWA compounds, and we’ve been successful.” The materials utilize metal-organic frameworks (MOFs).

“Previous research had found that MOFs can be effective at degrading CWAs,” Zhao says. “However, MOFs normally come in the form of a powder. We wanted to see if we could grow MOFs as functional coatings onto fibers, so that they could be used in masks, filters and protective garments.”

Uniform coatings of MOFs were synthesized on top of the nanofibers, forming unique kebab-like structures. The MOFs are what break down the CWAs, rendering them harmless. The research work is reported in, “Ultra-Fast Degradation of Chemical Warfare Agents Using MOF–Nanofiber Kebabs,” published in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

“We think that this demonstration of well-controlled MOF thin films that retain their chemical functionality is an important step for personal security and has implications for many other civilian and commercial uses,” adds Dr. Parsons.

“This is a big step forward for materials designed for CWA protection” says Dr. Oldham, a senior research scholar in Dr. Parsons’ group and co-author of the paper. “The next steps include integration of the MOF-nanofiber kebab structures into currently fielded garment and suit materials, and evaluating the durability of the materials in various conditions…………….”

The paper was co-authored by Dennis T. Lee, Heather F. Barton, and Ian R. Woodward of NC State; Robert Yaga and Howard Walls of RTI; and Morgan Hall and Gregory Peterson of Edgewood. The work was done with support from Edgewood, under grant number W911SR-07-C-0075, and the U.S. Army Research Office, under grant number W911NF-13-1-0173.

Dr. Parsons is an Alcoa Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and a member of the NC State Research Leadership Academy.