By T’Jae Gibson, Army Research Laboratory,
Public Affairs Office
Army researchers are building a portable drug detector that, soon, could help military and civil law enforcement agencies throughout the country more quickly catch synthetic drug abuse.
The Army Research Laboratory’s prototype biosensor model is expected to directly detect the active chemical substitutes that help “fake pot” fade from notice in commercially available synthetic cannabinoid detectors. It would be the first field-ready test on the market.
In 2012, the Army Criminal Investigation Command conducted 1,675 investigations involving Soldiers and spice, bath salts, or other synthetic drugs, according to a May 2013 Army Times article.
ARL is collaborating with ACIL on this work, as synthetic cannabinoids are a rising threat that burdens their case-load. Currently there are no fieldable detection systems to perform analysis on the spot and tests are sent back to ACIL for evaluation. ARL is attempting to build a sensor that is not only portable, but can detect an ever-changing culprit.
“Garage chemists” sneak their concoctions of chemically laced kitchen herbs past detectors law enforcement use today, because those biosensors are designed to find a specific molecule. “But there are hundreds of synthetic cannabinoid variants, so a sensor that detects one specific synthetic cannabinoid that is seen on Spice or K2 would be quickly outdated as these types change regularly,” said Dr. Mark Griep, principal scientist on the project, who works in the Composite and Hybrid Materials Branch in ARL’s Weapons and Materials Research Directorate.
Griep joined with Dr. Shashi Karna, an Army senior research scientist and noted international expert in nanotechnology, to form a team of government and academic scientific investigators in building a detector that “will be able to detect the whole “class” of chemicals that have an affinity for the cannabinoid receptors in the brain,” Griep said. These are the receptors that are targeted by the drug and induce its effects. “Therefore, even if entirely new synthetic cannabinoid molecules are created, they are created to activate these receptors, so our sensor will be sensitive to them.”
This work builds upon the fundamental bio-nano science conducted at ARL and the Michigan Technological University in 2008, where a joint team of military and university researchers developed a unique opto-electronic hybrid system based on the integration of quantum dots with the highly functional protein bacteriorhodopsin, and revealed the fundamental science and mechanisms behind their interactions.
Based on this hybrid bio-nanomaterial, researchers were able to patent a system they developed that could selectively target a material, and when that target binds to the sensor it induces a change in the proteins electrical output.
With this understanding of the materials, ARL was able to develop a unique sensing platform that is amenable to functionalization towards a wide variety of airborne or liquid targets. The base platform is very generic and could be tailored it to a multitude of sensing needs, explained Griep.
“Although this bio-nano sensing platform wasn’t developed with drug sensing in mind, this program leverages our bio-nano sensor expertise towards a specific drug testing problem. The fact that our sensor platform has the potential to be small, lightweight, user-friendly, and fieldable in addition to being generic enough to be tailored towards synthetic cannabinoid detections made it a unique fit to fill this specific drug detection need,” Griep said.
Synthetic marijuana arose from the “unfortunate manipulation of science far outside the intended purpose” to study the effects of cannabinoids on brain functioning and their efficacy in treating pain, Griep said. Several cannabinoid compounds were created to help advance the treatment of serious ailments like multiple sclerosis, AIDS, and cancer.
The protocols of basic science to communicate findings in open literature, namely the “Materials and Methods” section, “became a shopping list and recipe for garage chemists with ambitions straight out of AMC TV’s Breaking Bad. They laced natural herbs with these molecules and advertised the product as a legal alternative to pot, with the further come-on that this substitute could not be detected in drug tests. At the same time, a warning label said the item was not for human consumption as a way to skirt watchdogs like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” said Griep, who first created new biosensor platforms for a DARPA-funded project in 2008.
He is tailoring bio-nanosensing platforms he created to build the synthetic cannabinoid detection platform. His research team at Michigan Technological University and ARL won the Paul A. Siple award for their efforts in Bio-Nanoelectronics at the Army Science Conference in 2010.
Griep said traditional drug-focused sensors are focused on two aspects. Finding the synthetic cannabinoids before use, which is what the ARL model is being designed to do, and detecting the drugs after use and after they have been processed in the body, which is when urine and hair analyses come into play.
“Although detecting the drug after it’s in the body is standard for normal marijuana and THC [tetrahydrocannabinol ] metabolites, it is hard to implement for synthetic cannabinoids since a lot of research is required to find out how each specific chemical is processed in the body. This is has been figured out for a few synthetic cannabinoids, but the problem comes back to the hundreds of variants of these synthetics. A new test would need to be developed for each variant,” Griep said.
There is plenty of research available that gives a sense for the complexity of the “system to process chemicals in your body. So even if there’s a single atom or bond change in the material, the entire pathway could change. Thus, the end product, or what ends up in your hair or urine, could be greatly different. Every synthetic cannabinoid has a different structure or functional group arrangement, so it will be processed differently in the body,” Griep explained.
The Department of the Army banned the use of synthetic marijuana for Soldiers in 2011. Earlier this month, the Department of Defense approved the addition of synthetic cannabinoids to the approved random testing panel within the next ninety days, said Buddy Horne, drug testing manager for the Army Substance Abuse Program.
Synthetic cannabinoids are substances chemically produced to mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. When smoked or ingested, they can produce psychoactive effects similar to those of marijuana and have been reportedly linked to heart attacks, seizures and hallucinations. Some abusers reported marijuana-consistent effects such as sleepiness, relaxation and reduced blood pressure, but others have reported symptoms not common with marijuana abuse such as nausea, increased agitation, elevated blood pressure and racing heart rates.
The Michigan Technological University expects to deliver to the Army a unit to house ARL’s biosensor technology in December.
ARL expects to deliver a functional prototype ACIL by the end of 2014, but until then, Army researchers will work with collaborators from the National Institutes of Health, ACIL and the DEA to test its efficacy using real-world synthetic cannabinoid samples.
If it works well, Griep said, this device could quickly roll out to military police and civilian law enforcement agencies around the country.
ACIL is responsible for all the forensic investigation work within the DoD. In the case of synthetic cannabinoids, whenever the military police comes across a suspicious sample or there is a synthetic drug case involving military personnel during an investigation, the contents of the sample must be evaluated and proven at ACIL.
“Since there aren’t any field tests, all the characterization and analysis is done at ACIL. There are a tremendous amount of potential synthetic cannabinoid related cases, so there’s quite a workload of samples arriving at ACIL,” said Griep.
“If there was a good field-able sensor – our work’s goal – capable of allowing law enforcement to determine if the suspicious package contained synthetic cannabinoids or not, then the ACIL workload would be cut down since only samples that actually contain synthetic cannabinoids would be sent back for analysis.”
ARL, Purdue research of 3-D printing to fix damaged on-the-spot in combat zones, cut maintenance cos
By T’Jae Gibson,
Army Research Laboratory Public Affairs
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — New technology being developed by research engineers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Purdue University will soon help just about any Soldier deployed in far-off locations to immediately spot and fix damaged aircraft and ground vehicle parts.
Researchers found that combining the general purpose, finite-element analysis software ABAQUS with Python, an open-source code used to optimize logical structures such as topologically interlocked structures, improves energy absorption and dissipation, productivity and lower maintenance costs.
The combination of ABAQUS and Python provides an automated process for auto-generation of the geometries, models, materials assignments and code execution, said Ed Habtour, a research engineer with ARL’s Vehicle Technology Directorate at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
He said the code is developed to assist designers with tools to model the new generation of 3-D additive manufactured and TISs structures.
“The benefit for the Soldier is an after-effect. The TIS would provide an excellent energy absorption and dissipation mechanism for future vehicles using additive manufacturing, Habtour said. “Subsequently, the Soldier can print these structures in the field using additive manufacturing by simply downloading the model generated by the designer/vendor.”
The research team developed logical structures from the mini-composition of tetrahedron-shaped cells in existing materials, an approach ARL research engineers say is a vast departure from the military’s tendency to build new materials to meet existing problems.
“Traditionally, every time the U.S. Army encounters a problem in the field the default has been to develop new and exotic materials. Using logical structures can be effective in solving some critical and challenging problems, like the costly and time-consuming certification process that all new materials must face,” Habtour said.
This logical structure is based on principles of segmentation and assembly, where the structure is segmented into independent unit elements then reconfigured/assembled logically and interlocked in an optimal orientation to enhance the overall properties of the structure, Habtour explained.
The researchers are focusing on topologically interlocked structures using VTD’s 3-D additive manufacturing approach to build 2-D and 3-D structures based on cells in the shape of Platonic solids.
Habtour said new structures created from this process are designed to be adaptive and configurable to the harsh conditions like random and harmonic vibrations, thermal loads, repetitive shocks due to road bumps, crash and acoustic attenuation. An added bonus he said is that these structures are configured to prevent crack propagation.
“Sometime in the near future, Soldiers would be able to fabricate and repair these segmented structures very easily in the front lines or Forward Operating Bases, so instead of moving damaged ground or air vehicles to a main base camp for repair, an in-field repair approach would essentially mean vehicles would be fixed and accessible to warfighters much faster at lower costs,” said Habtour. “We want to change the conventional thinking by taking advantage of exciting materials and manipulating the structure based on the principle of segmentation and assembly.”
ARL is working closely with project managers at The U. S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center. Discussions are already underway to transition this work to AMRDEC and Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center developmental programs.
By Tracie Dean, U.S. Army Research Laboratory
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Aug. 5, 2013) — A team of Army researchers developed a new gel-propellant engine called the vortex engine.
Michael Nusca, Ph.D., Robert Michaels and Nathan Mathis were recently recognized by the Department of the Army with a 2012 Army Research and Development Outstanding Collaboration Award, or RDA, for their work titled, “Use of Computational Fluid Dynamics in the Development and Testing of Controllable Thrust Gel Bipropellant Rocket Engines for Tactical Missiles.”
Nusca, a researcher in Army Research Laboratory, or ARL’s, Propulsion Science Branch at Aberdeen Proving Ground, explained the new technology.
“Gelled, hypergolic propellants are swirled with the combustion chamber to promote mixing and combustion,” Nusca said. “Traditionally, Army missiles used on the battlefield utilize solid propellant in the rocket engine. These engines require an ignition source and once initiated cannot be throttled without special hardware, both of which add weight to the engine. Liquid hypergolic propellants ignite on contact without an igniter and the engine can be throttled by regulating the propellant flow. In addition, if the propellants are gelled, the storage tanks have been shown to be insensitive to attack, unlike liquids that can explode when the container is punctured.”
This new engine was developed with Michaels and Mathis, both researchers at the Aviation Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center, which is one of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s, or AMRDEC, elements located at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.
“At AMRDEC, the propellants, injection systems and engines were developed and test fired, while at ARL the physics of propellant injection, combustion and engine operation were modeled using supercomputers,” Nusca said. This modeling included both current engine and fuel designs as well as proposals for design alternatives aimed at enhanced performance. The synergism of research between the two labs proved the technology worked according to design.”
“This award recognized the cooperative effort between the ARL-WMRD, or Weapons and Materials Research Directorate, and the AMRDEC-WDI, or Weapons Development and Integration, in maturing a new rocket engine technology for Army tactical missiles.”
Commenting on the impact this body of work could have on the operational Army, Nusca said, “This technology has the potential for game-changing impacts on the future of small, selectable thrust rocket engines for Army tactical missiles, as the main propulsion system, as well as strategic missiles as a course correction system. AMRDEC and the Program Executive Officer for Missiles and Space have direct uses for this technology.”
The primary use and application of this technology has been on the battlefield.
“Eventually the Soldier will have access to a tactical missile on the battlefield that can be used for a variety of missions due to the selectable thrust capability,” Nusca said.
Nusca believes this technology has other applications that will also produce significant results for missile systems.
“The next step for this type of technology would be a full-scale flight test of the vortex engine at AMRDEC for a particular missile system. This test would extend the successful engine test-stand firings and computer modeling and demonstrate increased missile range and thrust modulation in flight,” Nusca said.
The RDA awards recognize outstanding scientific and engineering achievements and technical leadership throughout the Army’s commands, laboratories, and research, development and engineering centers.
Nusca was thrilled to have received the recognition by the Army for the team’s work.
“Receiving this RDA for cooperation makes me feel proud to be a part of ARL and AMRDEC efforts to produce basic and applied research that is increasingly relevant to the Soldier to whom we owe the best battlefield technology that we develop,” Nusca said.
- ARL is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, or AMC. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness, technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment, to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC delivers it.
- ARL is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, MD. (Nov. 14, 2012) — New ballistic research areas are filling a critical gap in troop pelvic protection systems, said U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) engineers.
No standard scientific methodology currently exists to assess the performance of personal protection equipment (PPE) against secondary debris, such as flying rocks, and bomb fragments ejected after a buried improvised explosive device (IED) detonates, said Tyrone Jones, a mechanical engineer in ARL’s, Weapons and Materials Research Directorate (WMRD).
ARL teamed with the Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier, Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, Joint IED Defeat Organization and the British Ministry of Defence to provide the Army with a technical tool to evaluate the PPE against this spectrum of threats.
“Fundamentally, our role in this is to understand the underpinning science and technology of the threat itself, how explosive charges interact with the soil then with the target, but also the fundamental mechanical properties of the materials that are acquired to stop these threats.”
In 2010, ARL began developing a novel lab scale test methodology to reproduce the soil conditions from buried IEDs, and then consistently launch the surrogate soils via a sabot from a medium-caliber smooth-bore gun, called the sand cannon.
The test methodology quantifies the debris-resistant performance of various fabrics such as Kevlar and jersey-knitted silk, to be integrated into current PPE within a highly controlled environment. From here, Jones said, researchers can understand and readily identify the penetration mechanisms of the secondary debris into a prospect material.
ARL tested candidate materials provided by NSRDC leading to an improvement in the “ballistic boxer shorts” the military fielded last summer under its formal name, the Pelvic Protection System, as a response to the growing number of Soldiers on foot patrol sustaining injuries to the groin caused by IED blasts, and secondary debris. As of March 2012, more than 15,000 Soldiers had received the Army’s Pelvic Protection System.
The previous pelvic protection system was designed to protect against numerous and obvious Soldier threats, including small arms fire, thermal and environmental, but much of it can’t fully stand up against the tiniest of culprits — soil particulate and small debris — that en masse, can cause irreversible medical damage to soft tissue to include internal bleeding.
“Wound management is a critical part of medical care for dismounted Soldiers that are injured by buried IEDs,” said Jones. “Secondary debris, including soil ejecta, from buried explosive devices can lead to severe contamination and debridement issues for wounds and adds to the complexity of the first response care of stabilizing the primary wound.”
Col. James Jezior, Chief of Urology at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda said it’s not too difficult to tell the difference between a blast injury and a high velocity or gunshot wound type injury.
“The patterns of injury are much different between the two,” Jezior said. “Whether we see the fragments from the actual armament or whether there is secondary debris from things around or from the vehicle or from clothes, I don’t think that’s quite as easy to tell. It’s probably in many of the cases a mixture of those things that are eventually embedded in tissue or are part of the injury mechanism.”
ABOUT THE SCIENCE
Secondary debris testing involves complete analysis of live-fire blast data and soil mechanics, in addition to knowledge and experience in ballistics.
“ARL is the world leader in the characterization of blast, soil effects and terminal ballistic effects caused by fragments and secondary debris,” Jones said. “With this fundamental understanding, ARL is able to design repeatable methods and procedures to simulate these blast conditions in order to develop protection solutions.”
From the science, ARL is able to identify the relevant dynamic soil components and variables that inflict the damage on target during live-fire blast testing, and translate these components and variables into a debris simulant that can be consistently reproduced in a laboratory environment.
Typical sand-cannon tests involve a 25.4mm smooth-bore barrel gun firing “surrogate” soil load into a ballistic gelatin block designed to represent a body surrogate. Candidate materials were placed in front of the gelatin block. The soil “cloud” travels through the material and into the gelatin block. The amount of soil retained by the gelatin block and the depth of penetration into gelatin block gives a measure of insult, or damage the secondary debris can cause.
“Bulk aggregate presents a very different threat than a discrete fragment or rock,” said Jones. “We are investigating how this threat interacts with a spectrum of materials, focusing on personal protective equipment and clothing so that revolutionary protective material breakthroughs can be achieved.”
Jones said surrogate soil is actually a 36-grit garnet abrasive blasting particulate selected because of its consistency of grain size and distribution, lack of moisture variability, individual grain hardness, availability in bulk, and easily obtainable specification.
“We use a high speed Phantom v7.1 video camera to capture the dynamic elements such as grit cloud flyer diameter and length, velocity and depth of penetration into the gelatin up to 160,000 frames per second. The high speed video camera captures the launch and penetration process in slow motion, measuring test variables and detailing revealing dynamic mechanism and verifying consistency in our test execution. Finally, the use of powerful three-dimensional microscopes can be used to analyze the architecture of the protective materials before and after impact, to aid in understanding the terminal ballistic effects of the interaction,” said Jones, who received a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), and a Master of Science in Acoustics Engineering from Pennsylvania State University.
“ARL is the world leader in the characterization of blast, soil effects and terminal ballistic effects caused by fragments and secondary debris.”
Integration, Teamwork Strengthen Research
Just as ARL began developing this methodology, the British Ministry of Defense began deploying pelvic protection for its Soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, with the aim of reducing the number and extent of injuries from secondary blast. Dr. Mike Dalzell began a two-year ESEP exchange program with the ARL on the heels of previous assignments with the U.K.’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory where he investigated Soldier protection solutions against blast and fragmentation.
“Fundamentally, our role in this is to understand the underpinning science and technology of the threat itself, how explosive charges interact with the soil then with the target, but also the fundamental mechanical properties of the materials that are acquired to stop these threats,” Dalzell said. “Secondary to that of course, we also have to understand the properties in the materials that are necessary to ensure the Soldier is not excessively burdened by wearing the protective technologies, so we’re interested in, for example, comfort, thermal burden, flexibility and so on.”
This methodology would eventually provide PEO Soldier with an evaluation tool used to understand how materials perform against a range of threats, and provide measurable insight on other important material factors such as breathability, thermal resistance and comfort that affect the Soldier’s ability to function and execute their mission.
This information would be used to assist the material community in the development of new materials that provide better protection at less weight, and it can be used to develop techniques and procedures that provide Soldiers with methods to increase survivability.
The methodology has already been provided to the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center with an initial screening of candidate protective materials for potential incorporation into Army Combat Uniform pants. This methodology would support ongoing evaluations within the Army and Defense Department to determine which materials provide the most protection, while minimizing weight and bulk.
Dalzell said working with ARL presented “an opportunity there to get some collaboration between the U.K. and the U.S. on the particular subject. So I worked with the division and branch chiefs in WMRD to see if we could put together a program to support the U.S. Army’s own efforts developing pelvic protection for their own Soldiers.”
He said he’ll take some of the different and unique techniques learned in ARL back with him to apply on U.K. research projects.
“It’s been really great to work with ARL, especially within WMRD, with the shear breadth and depth of the scientists working there. I’ve had the opportunity to conduct a whole range of testing with a multitude of experts here to really get a different perspective on the problem. I think it’s important as scientists and engineers, we sometimes tend to look at things from our perspective but to get a different perspective from my colleagues here in the U.S. has been really worthwhile.”
- T’Jae Gibson is with ARL Public Affairs.