Professor Receives Nearly $1 Million Contract to Study Chemical Warfare Compounds

MELBOURNE, FLA.—Andy Knight, associate professor of chemistry, Florida Institute of Technology, has been awarded a five-year, $963,777 contract from the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Washington, D.C. With collaborators at the Center for Bio/Molecular Science and Engineering at NRL, Knight and his Florida Tech research group will study the cooperative effects of organic and inorganic coordination complexes on the catalytic degradation of organophosphorus compounds. These compounds are of interest because of their similarities to a number of phosphorus containing chemical warfare agents such as Sarin and VX.

Knight’s approach is to use gold nanoparticles as a platform for controlling the spatial positioning of molecules around catalytic metal centers. It is much like nature’s version of catalytic systems, a three-dimensional arrangement of molecules around a metal within enzymes. The trick is to control the stability, activity and selectivity of a chemical transformation or degradation, something that nature is very good at achieving.

Funding for the project is provided by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), an entity of the U.S. Department of Defense headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Va. Created in 1998, DTRA’s vision is to protect the U.S. and its interests from weapons of mass destruction.

Knight’s group, funded by DTRA since 2006, has been working in the broad area of antiviral and antibacterial therapeutics based on metal complexes. This recent DTRA contract represents a new direction for his group, while at the same time allowing the scientists to continue studying the applications of inorganic chemistry in novel technologies.

Knight has been a Distinguished Fellow of the Office of Naval Research/American Society of Engineering Education (ONR/ASEE) Summer Faculty Research Program since 2007. The ONR/ASEE has also funded a number of his collaborative efforts with the NRL.

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