Engineers have designed a cheap and simple prototype nerve gas detector using both Legos and an iPhone.
The rig features a sliding plate of upside-down Legos with rows of small holes that can be filled with nerve agent samples, which are then placed in a chemical cocktail. The chemicals will change color and fluoresce with even the smallest amount of a nerve agent in the sample.
“Unfortunately, it can be difficult to see differences in the level of fluorescence with the naked eye in the field,” said Xiaolong Sun, a post-doctoral research fellow who helped develop the device’s sensors. The Lego box operates as a portable darkroom with a UV light to activate the chemical fluorescence. Once the light is turned on, an iPhone placed on top of the box is able to take photos of the sample through a small hole drilled through the Legos.
A photo of the sample can then be sent by text or email to someone at a lab with a computer to identify the type of nerve agent and how much of an agent there is with a color scale and software developed by graduate student Alexander Boulgakov.
What is clever about this is its simplicity. If only more engineers on government projects would think like this.