Armed forces must often test their environment for biological or chemical toxins, something that has recently re-emerged as a threat in North Africa and the Middle East. As you can imagine, these tests are done in hostile environments and as such the test equipment needs to be simple, quick, reliable, and robust. So we here at Ploughshare Innovation, part of the British Ministry of Defence, got clever and developed a device based on lateral flow strip technology—just like you find in a pregnancy test! Only ours uses a built-in swab, and in one step can screen for multiple compounds, while automatically saving samples for future analysis.
A diagram of a basic lateral flow strip (Source: Wikimedia) is shown to the right—essentially it’s a test with a visual indicator indicating the presence of a specific compound. While a wide range of substances can be detected, in our case that colour change can indicate the presence of a dangerous chemical warfare agent or a biological one—like a baby ;)