David Zax

A View from David Zax

An Anti-Chemical Weapon Paint

When paint saves lives.

  • July 24, 2012

Next time you’re tempted to badmouth paint (if that’s something you’re wont to do), consider that it might someday soon be saving the lives of our troops.

Researchers have developed a special kind of paint that can absorb dangerous chemicals, reports The Engineer. The special paint is a collaboration between The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (in the UK, hence the orthography) and the global paint giant AkzoNobel.

The paint’s topcoat contains silica gel, which can absorb nerve gas and prevent it from getting in, say, a tank. The undercoat of the paint is designed with the optimal amount of stickiness–enough of an adhesive to hold the topcoat in place, but weak enough that you can easily scrub away the topcoat should it become contaminated.

There’s a surprising amount of innovation in the pipeline from makers of defense paint, it would seem. AkzoNobel says it wants to make paints that would tell soldiers when they’re under attack, by changing the color of the paint. (Something of a zero-sum game there, it seems, since changing the color would presumably blow your camouflage.) Eventually, the company would like to produce a paint that not only absorbs the dangerous chemicals but neutralizes them. Vermont University researchers Stephanie Livingston and Christopher Landry have mixed silica with a vanadium catalyst to create something that neutralizes mustard gas, for instance. For more on that, see their academic paper, here.

The Economist points out that there haven’t been any large scale uses of chemical weapons since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s–but that’s no reason to slacken our defenses. Just yesterday, Syria declared its willingness to use chemical weapons if attacked.

Paint innovation is a category that stretches beyond the military and into realms like green energy. Take, for instance, this vision of embedding paint with solar cells–so that your entire house could act as a solar panel. Generally, as chemistry advances and technology is miniaturized, don’t be surprised if you begin to find varieties of enhanced paint cropping up in all corners of your life.

This probably goes without saying, but should you ever get your hands on military-grade paint, heed the old warning of not trying this at home. Two months ago, a Brazilian man and Incredible Hulk fanatic painted himself to look like his hero, but made the mistake of using paint intended for ballistic missiles and nuclear submarines. Twenty baths failed to remove the paint; in the end, it took a gang of friends scrubbing him for 24 hours straight to undo the damage.

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