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On 7 April this year, a suspected chemical attack on the Syrian town of Douma was reported to have killed at least 40 people and injured up to 500, including women and children. Syria had made its chemical weapons capability known to the world six years earlier, with a public declaration of its intention to use them against any foreign assault. Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq waged chemical warfare against Iran and its own civilian Kurdish population, including the notorious 1988 attack on Halabja that killed 5000 Kurds.
Not even a common gas mask would have spared these victims a ghastly death. Widely used by the military to protect against mustard gas attacks in World War I, the technology in the masks, astonishingly, hasn't been updated since.
Soldiers - Mosul - Chemical - Attack - Islamic
When Australian soldiers based in Mosul were exposed to a low-grade chemical attack by Islamic State in April 2017, the Department of Defence realised a 21st-century solution was needed. Searching for someone with the capability to develop an improved canister, it approached Associate Professor Matthew Hill, the incumbent of an 'experimental' joint appointment between Monash University's chemical engineering department and CSIRO.
Hill – an ARC Future Fellow, 2011 Victorian Young Tall Poppy of the Year, 2012 Eureka Prize winner and 2014 Prime Minister's Prize for Science winner – works 50-50 between the two organisations, taking full advantage of the research capacity of the University's chemical engineering department and the industrial muscle of the nation's science and technology lab.
Canisters - Gas - Masks - Soldiers - World
"The current canisters in gas masks have been used by soldiers since World War I, and haven't been improved since," says Associate Professor Hill.
"They offer virtually no protection from common chemicals like chlorine and ammonia, so we've been commissioned to make a new canister that can. We've already found an improvement up to a factor of 40 using metal-organic frameworks....
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