Natick scientists defend against unseen enemies

By Bob Reinert, USAG-Natick Public AffairsJuly 12, 2012

Natick scientists defend against unseen enemies
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

NATICK, Mass. (July 12, 2012) -- Christopher Doona fights unseen enemies each day in his job at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center.

Doona, a civilian senior research chemist with NSRDEC's Materials and Defense Sciences Division, uses the tools of science to do battle against disease-causing microorganisms. His research has led to novel technologies to make the medical facilities, textiles, kitchens, galleys, showers and latrines that serve American war fighters even more hygienic and safer.

"For us, because we tend to work more on the basic research, publications, books and book chapters, it's kind of fascinating to see our research being more applied, patented and licensed to industry," Doona said. "Actually, industry is already marketing a commercial product based on our inventions.

"Ultimately, we would like to see it procured and used to benefit the Soldier in the field -- for disinfection, decontamination, sterilization or sanitation. That's our ultimate goal."

Doona's arsenal of disinfection is an ensemble of novel mixed-chemical technologies and a pair of portable, energy-independent devices that sterilize and sanitize on-site. Their ammunition: chlorine dioxide.

Chlorine dioxide is a well-known disinfectant that can be used to kill Bacillus anthracis -- the agent that causes Anthrax -- and it is environmentally friendly, as well.

Doona is a former National Science Foundation scientist in Germany and a Middlebury College professor investigating Chemical Chaos and Environmental Chemistry.

"My previous experience helped to convert complex reaction chemistry into simple applications for the military," he said.

The Portable Chemical Sterilizer, or PCS, is a lightweight, portable, plastic suitcase that safely generates gaseous chlorine dioxide in minutes to sterilize surgical instruments at their Point-of-Use, or PoU.

Doona's lightweight, collapsible plastic spray-bottle, called "D-FENS," which stands for "Disinfectant-sprayer for Foods and ENvironmentally-friendly Sanitation," also generates chlorine dioxide at PoU, to disinfect surfaces in medical units, showers, latrines, and other equipment.

Extensive laboratory testing has validated the effectiveness of both devices.

"Certainly, when tested against other (sterilants), it fared very well," Doona said. "Bleach also worked well, and it's the traditional one, but you have to transport a lot of weight of a hazardous chemical."

Doona will use any means available to win this war on microbial contamination to improve life for service members. His newest weapon, in development, is something called "D-FEND ALL," an all-purpose system for the safe, controlled, PoU production of chlorine dioxide.

"D-FEND ALL generates dilute solutions rapidly," said Doona, "and there are huge practical advantages for that in a number of potential applications. We validated it on textiles used in clothing and experimental fabrics. It's very promising -- we have several companies interested in licensing it."

These portable PoU decontamination technologies resulted, in part, from a finding a number of years ago that was ignored during research at Natick into alternative chemical heaters.

"That's where our original (chemical) reaction came out of," Doona said. "The thing is, it never really worked for a chemical heater, but we knew we had something very special if we could generate chlorine dioxide. The real question was, 'How could we harness it for use in practical applications?'"

Doona and his team have been recognized with Department of the Army Research and Development Achievement Awards and Federal Laboratory Consortium Awards for Excellence in Technology Transfer for this research with practical benefit to military and civilian consumers.

"It's just one of those great projects that we're really fortunate to have been involved in," said Doona, "and it's gratifying to see the research we created be recognized in the scientific community and to be developed into inventions the Army can use."

Related Links:

Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center

Sizing up today's Soldier

High school scholars visit NSRDEC

Natick Soldier Systems Center