IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


6th January, 2024 Science and Technology


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  • Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Bhopal, have pioneered a groundbreaking advancement in photocatalysis by creating a potent and sustainable material named UC-POP-Au.


  • This novel photocatalyst, combining upconversion nanoparticles and gold nanoparticles within a UV-absorbing porous organic polymer, exhibits exceptional capabilities in harnessing solar energy for chemical processes, specifically targeting the detoxification of hazardous substances like chemical warfare agents.

UC-POP-Au Photocatalyst

  • Full Spectrum Light Absorption: UC-POP-Au demonstrates a remarkable ability to absorb the entire spectrum of light, unlike traditional photocatalysts that only utilize UV or high-energy light segments. This property significantly enhances its catalytic efficiency in chemical reactions under sunlight.
  • Detoxification of Mustard Gas Simulant: The material has displayed impressive efficiency in detoxifying mustard gas simulants, such as '2-chloroethyl ethyl sulfide' (CEES), a highly toxic chemical warfare agent. Under direct sunlight, UC-POP-Au exhibited superior performance in breaking down CEES, showcasing its potential in combating chemical threats.
  • Composition and Application: The composition of UC-POP-Au, integrating near-infrared absorbing upconversion nanoparticles and visible light absorbing gold nanoparticles within a UV-absorbing porous organic polymer, contributes to its catalytic efficacy.
  • Real-World Applications: in designing protective coatings against chemical warfare agents under natural sunlight conditions. Its successful utilization on cotton cloth to detoxify mustard gas simulants exemplifies its practicality.
  • Reusability and Sustainability: UC-POP-Au demonstrates reusability, retaining its catalytic activity over multiple cycles. This sustainability aspect distinguishes it from other catalysts that lack the ability to be collected and reused.

Introduction to Photocatalysis

  • Photocatalysis involves a process where light energy triggers a chemical reaction by activating a photocatalyst.
  • These catalysts play a pivotal role in accelerating chemical transformations under light irradiation without undergoing chemical changes themselves.

Working Principles:

  • Photocatalyst Function: Photocatalysts operate by absorbing photons from light, subsequently initiating reactions by exciting electrons within the catalyst's structure.
  • Generation of Electron-Hole Pairs: Light absorption promotes electrons to higher energy levels, creating electron-hole pairs. These charged species drive chemical transformations by participating in redox reactions.
  • Surface Reactions: Electrons and holes participate in surface reactions, facilitating the degradation of pollutants, water splitting for hydrogen production, and organic synthesis.

Types of Photocatalysts:

  • Metal Oxides: Titanium dioxide (TiO2) and zinc oxide (ZnO) are extensively studied metal oxide photocatalysts due to their stability, abundance, and efficiency in various photocatalytic applications.
  • Semiconductors: Certain semiconductors, like cadmium sulfide (CdS) and tungsten trioxide (WO3), exhibit photocatalytic properties owing to their band structures conducive to light absorption and charge separation.
  • Organic Photocatalysts: Organic molecules, particularly organic dyes and porphyrins, demonstrate photocatalytic activity, primarily in organic synthesis and pollutant degradation.

Applications of Photocatalysts:

  • Environmental Remediation: Photocatalysts assist in degrading organic pollutants, purifying water, and reducing air pollutants, contributing to environmental sustainability.
  • Hydrogen Production: Photocatalysts enable the conversion of water into hydrogen and oxygen through water splitting, a clean energy source for fuel cells and energy storage.
  • Solar Energy Conversion: Photocatalytic systems aid in harnessing solar energy for various applications, including solar cells and artificial photosynthesis.
  • Chemical Synthesis: Utilization of photocatalysts in synthetic chemistry facilitates the synthesis of fine chemicals and pharmaceuticals with enhanced efficiency and selectivity.

Introduction to Chemical Warfare Agents

  • Chemical warfare agents (CWAs) are toxic chemicals primarily designed for military use to incapacitate, injure, or kill humans through exposure via various routes, including inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact.
  • These substances are classified based on their chemical properties and effects on the human body.

Classification of Chemical Warfare Agents:

  • Nerve Agents: Highly toxic organophosphorus compounds disrupting the nervous system. Examples include Sarin, Tabun, Soman, VX.
  • Blister Agents (Vesicants): Chemicals causing severe skin, eye, and respiratory tract irritation and blistering. Mustard gas (Sulfur mustard) and Lewisite fall into this category.
  • Blood Agents: Compounds disrupting oxygen utilization in the body. Hydrogen Cyanide (AC) and Cyanogen Chloride (CK) are notable examples.
  • Choking Agents: Substances causing severe respiratory distress and lung damage. Chlorine and Phosgene are commonly known choking agents.

Effects on Human Health:

  • Nerve Agents: Rapidly affect the nervous system, causing symptoms like convulsions, respiratory distress, and ultimately leading to paralysis and death.
  • Blister Agents: Induce skin and eye irritation, leading to severe burns, blistering, and potential long-term health complications.
  • Blood Agents: Interfere with oxygen transport in the body, causing rapid asphyxiation and death.
  • Choking Agents: Severe damage to the respiratory system, including pulmonary edema, leading to suffocation and death.

Historical Use:

  • World Wars: CWAs were extensively used in World War I and sporadically in conflicts thereafter, leading to widespread casualties and long-term health effects.
  • Modern Warfare: Despite international treaties prohibiting their use, instances of CWAs being deployed in conflicts have occurred in recent history.

International Conventions and Treaties:

  • Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC): An international treaty prohibiting the development, production, stockpiling, and use of CWAs, ensuring their destruction and promoting peaceful use of chemistry.
  • Organizations and Oversight: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) oversees the implementation of the CWC and verifies compliance among member states.

Introduction to Mustard Gas

  • Mustard gas, also known as Sulfur Mustard (HD - bis(2-chloroethyl) sulfide), is a potent and blistering chemical warfare agent that gained notoriety for its devastating effects during World War I and subsequent conflicts.
  • It belongs to the category of vesicant agents used in chemical warfare due to its ability to cause severe blistering and tissue damage upon exposure.

Properties and Mechanism of Action:

  • Chemical Composition: Mustard gas is a sulfur-based organic compound with a yellow-brown color and a distinctive garlic-like odor. It can be produced in liquid, vapor, or aerosol forms.
  • Mode of Action: Mustard gas primarily affects the skin, eyes, and respiratory system upon contact. It interferes with DNA synthesis, causing cell death and severe blistering in affected areas.

Effects on Human Health:

  • Skin Effects: Contact with mustard gas leads to skin irritation, blistering, and burns. Blisters typically appear within hours of exposure and can be extremely painful, causing long-term scarring and tissue damage.
  • Respiratory Effects: Inhalation of mustard gas vapors causes irritation and damage to the respiratory tract, leading to coughing, shortness of breath, and potentially life-threatening lung damage.
  • Eye Irritation: Exposure to mustard gas vapor causes eye irritation, redness, tearing, and in severe cases, blindness.


In summary, the groundbreaking UC-POP-Au photocatalyst developed by IISER Bhopal opens new dimensions in photocatalysis by harnessing sunlight to combat chemical threats, offering potential solutions for environmental and security challenges.


Q. Elaborate on the significance of the UC-POP-Au photocatalyst developed by IISER Bhopal researchers in the context of chemical warfare agent neutralization.  (250 Words)