Skip to Main Content

UMass Lowell scales back Fall 2020 plan to minimize students, employees on campus. View the plan for more info.

Research Will Help Protect Soldiers from Toxic Chemical Agents

Prof. Whitten’s $345K Army Grant to Study Gas-Sensing Nanomaterials

UMass Lowell Image
Toxic chemical agents, such as nerve gas, are just some of the threats faced by military personnel in the battlefield.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

The U.S. Army Research Office has awarded Prof. James Whitten a grant worth $345,000 over a period of three years to perform research on the photoluminescence of metal oxide nanoparticles measuring billionths of a meter.

Photoluminescence is the process in which light of one color (wavelength) shines on a material and causes it to emit light of a different color.

“My research team and I are measuring how the photoluminescence of certain nanomaterials, including metal oxides, changes when molecules adsorb, or stick, to them,” says Whitten, who is the chair of the Chemistry Department and the principal investigator for the Army project. “Some metal oxide nanomaterials are photoluminescent and react when exposed to gases.”

He says the Department of Defense is interested in possibly using the nanomaterials as new generations of air filters to protect military personnel in the battlefield from toxic chemical agents, such as nerve gas.

“We are trying to correlate changes in photoluminescence with gas adsorption to develop a way to monitor whether or not a filtration material still has remaining gas-filtering capacity,” he explains.

The photoluminescence is detectable only with special sensors, notes Whitten.

“This technology could potentially be applied to non-military uses such as respirators for miners and firefighters, but the production cost might be too prohibitive,” he adds.

Whitten’s team includes undergraduate chemistry major Evan Watters, graduate students Anupama Mukherjee and Christopher Granz and senior scientist Sandip Sengupta.