Scientists at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., have developed a hydrogel integrated with zirconium-based robust metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) that rapidly degrades organophosphate-based nerve agents used in chemical warfare, reports Phys.org. Unlike existing powdered MOF adsorbents, this hydrogel composite does not require added water and may be easily scaled up for use in protective masks or clothing. “Organophosphate-based nerve agents are among the most toxic chemicals known to humanity,” says senior author Omar Farha, a professor of chemistry at Northwestern University. “Their use in recent global conflicts reflects the urgent need for personal protective gear, as well as the bulk destruction of chemical weapon stockpiles. In this work, we integrate MOFs and amine-containing cross-linked hydrogel into cloth to build a proper microenvironment to facilitate the fast degradation of nerve agents and supply real-time protection.” The researchers integrated this hydrogel composite with cotton fibres and tested it by applying a small aliquot of either a simulant or an actual nerve agent (tested in collaboration with the US Army Lab) to its surface. Next, they analyzed the product and substrate using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. They found that the composite chemically converted 99% of the agent within just 10 minutes, maintaining this high level of catalytic activity even after it was stored in a sealed vial for 3 months. Since the authors envision the novel hydrogel composite being used as a reactive layer in suits and masks, they note that further engineering and testing will be necessary to integrate it into these existing products. However, since the method used to produce the composite is simple and easily scalable, Farha suggests that large-scale production of MOF-based masks and suits may be possible in the future.