First responders, soldiers, and scientists in the field.


The nerve gas detector uses a smartphone, a box made of LEGOs, and chemical sensors. (University of Texas at Austin)

This nerve gas detector senses dangerous chemicals using, in part, a simple rig consisting of a smartphone and a box made from LEGO® bricks. It combines a chemical sensor with photography to detect and identify different nerve agents. The chemical sensors generate fluorescence, which is key to the analysis. Different colors and brightness can signal to first responders which of several nerve agents are present and how much. Because different categories of nerve agents require different decontamination procedures and different treatments for victims — and because the weapons act swiftly, making time of the essence — these variations are key. The smartphone camera is sensitive enough to detect the differences in color and brightness in the glowing reaction. Software identifies the type and concentration of the nerve agent. The software can be adapted for multiple smartphone systems. A light-tight space to get a good reading on the camera was constructed out of plastic LEGO building blocks. The only other pieces of equipment needed are an ultraviolet light and standard 96-well test plate.

The chemical sensors generate fluorescence, which is key to the analysis. (University of Texas at Austin)


University of Texas at Austin


The prototype detector has been thoroughly tested.


Nerve agents are odorless, tasteless chemical weapons that can cause severe illness and death, sometimes within minutes. This detector is inexpensive and easy to build, enabling on-site construction and portability. It also can be adjusted on the fly.