The following article describes an ORNL technology development that
won an R&D 100 Award in 2000. The awards are presented annually
by R&D Magazine
in recognition of the year's most significant technological innovations.
ORNL's 107 R&D 100 awards place it first among DOE laboratories
and second only to General Electric.
soldier drives a humvee through a field in enemy territory. His companion
pushes a button on the display unit of a computerized instrument. Both
soldiers are wearing protective gear. Their goal is to map out the area
to determine which routes are safe for U.S. troops and which ones should
be avoided. Eventually an alarm sounds. "Nerve gas VX has been detected,"
the soldier says to the driver, while checking the instrument. "We'd
better take a different route." The soldiers drop warning markers and
head in a new direction. An hour later, an alarm sounds again. This
time the instrument has sniffed out another nearby threat: a cloud of
anthrax spores. "Let's try another way," the driver says.
may play out in two or three years in a combat zone where soldiers will
be able to use a vehicle-mounted Block II chemical biological mass spectrometer
(CBMS), developed by ORNL and several partners. The CBMS, which received
an R&D 100 Award in 2000, can detect both biological and chemical warfare
agents in the midst of pollen; mold spores; engine exhaust; and fumes
from fuels, lubricants, and fires, which would confound most detectors.
The CBMS can detect
a biological warfare agent in about 5 minutes, much faster than the
almost 15 minutes required by its nearest competitor. But it is unique
in other ways, too.
"The CBMS is the
only integrated system that can detect and identify chemical agents
on the ground and in the air and biological agents in the air," says
Wayne Griest, principal investigator for ORNL's project to develop the
CBMS. "Compared with separate detectors, it is lighter, smaller, less
power-intensive, and able to detect and identify more agents with improved
sensitivity and reliability. It is tolerant to radiation, less expensive
to use, and easier for soldiers to operate and maintain."
Meriweather and Rob Smith check the operation of the chemical
biological mass spectrometer developed partly by ORNL researchers
for use in helping U.S. Army soldiers detect the presence of biological
and chemical warfare weapons.
(Photo by Curtis Boles.)
The heart of the
Block II CBMS is an ion trap mass spectrometer. It is an outgrowth of
the ORNL-developed direct sampling ion trap mass spectrometer successfully
deployed to identify and measure hazardous chemical pollutants in the
field. Vapors of chemical warfare agents (e.g., the nerve agent VX or
blister agent HD) are drawn through a capillary line and routed to the
ion trap analyzer cell by a sampling mode valve and open-split capillary
interface. There, they are converted to ions by the chemical ionization
reagent gas. The agents are identified from their unique product ions,
which are split off from the parent ions in tandem mass spectrometry
To detect biological
warfare agents such as anthrax spores or bacterial toxins, the CBMS
bio-concentrator samples air and concentrates micron-sized respirable
aerosol particles. These are heated and reacted with a derivatizing
reagent that produces fatty acid esters and other biomarker molecules
characteristic of a hazardous organism, toxin, or virus. The ratios
of the detected biomarker molecules indicate the presence of a particular
biological agent. In the spectrometer, the biomarker molecules are ionized
and analyzed using MS/MS.
algorithms are being developed to identify biological agents present
in a background that may also include naturally occurring microorganisms,
pollen, mold, and fungus. These algorithms determine whether the biomarker
ions detected by the CBMS in the field match those characteristic of
each suspected biological warfare agent. A library of these spectra
is being built through experiments at ORNL's Chem-Bio Facility.
The Block II CBMS
Program Team includes ORNL, Orbital Sciences Corporation, MSP Corporation,
and the Colorado School of Mines. Collaborators include Dugway Proving
Ground, White Sands Missile Range, and the Armed Forces Institute of
Pathology. The sponsor is the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical
In the fourth
year of the project, Orbital Sciences Corporation has built six pre-production
CBMS units. The team has plans to build additional units in the next
year. Over the next two years, the team will be adding new capabilities
to the units to meet new Army requirements. By 2003, a large number
of rugged CBMS units will be produced for use on the battlefield.
"The 35 people
at ORNL who have worked with me say that the CBMS project has been the
most technically demanding of their careers," Griest says. As a result
of the challenge, several innovations have come out of ORNL and the
rest of the team. And the project has been especially rewarding because
the prize-winning detector should save many soldiers' lives.
Biological Mass Spectrometer web page
Computational Physics and Engineering Division
U.S. Army Soldier
and Biological Chemical Command
Armed Forces Institute