Archive for the ‘Weapons and Warfare’ Category

Sarin in Syria

Friday, April 26th, 2013

It looks like someone is using the deadly nerve agent sarin in the ongoing civil war in Syria, which may very well draw the United States into the conflict. I did a project on sarin for a class in my sophomore year of college at NYU. Here is the handout I prepared to accompany my talk.

Looking back on the document, a few things stand out:

1. It’s amazing how simple of a compound sarin is.

2. I had bizarre taste in fonts.

3. I’d forgotten I had written about Osama bin Laden a full year before the attacks on 9-11-01.

Better Killing Through Chemistry

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

Whether you like it or not, one of the principal reasons the government supports scientific research is to strengthen our ability to wage war. Scientific discoveries often open avenues for new and improved weapons, and making sure that our military technology is the most advanced in the world is vital to our national security. While military power alone is not a sufficient condition for maintaining our superpower status, it is a necessary condition. Part of our job as scientists is to use our knowledge to ensure that the “good guys” have the most advanced technology in the world when it comes to efficiently killing humans. Yes, this thought is a little revolting, but having scientists collaborate with the military is one of the best ways to ensure the protection of our political and social ideals.

The announcement that the US will begin developing a new model of nuclear warhead seemed to completely bypass the major news outlets. At least, no one made a fuss about it. I don’t know how much of an improvement the new design is over the old one, but it seems that the change is oriented more toward safer handling than greater yields.  That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more to the story.  I don’t expect the Army to go around advertising what exactly they’re hoping to accomplish. Congress needs to know, but that can be done behind closed doors. Suffice it to say, if the leap is significant, I think that the money used to fund the project would be money well spent. It will be interesting to see what Congress has to say when hearings open this month.

I’ve always wondered where the US stands in terms of the active development of chemical weapons. I know the Army has publicized the fact that it’s trying to destroy large portions of its stockpile, but it probably doesn’t want anyone to know whether it’s researching ways to create more potent chemical weapons.  Whether for tactical or strategic purposes, I simply presume that in some secret lab, the government continues to sponsor research on lethal chemistry.

And that’s a good thing. Do you think the bad guys wouldn’t use a powerful chemical weapon if they had access to it? No way. In both times of war and of peace, we should constantly challenge ourselves to develop new and improved chemical and biological weapons so that: 1) they are available if we need them and 2) we can develop effective counterweapons in case the enemy makes them first. Saying that the development of weapons of mass destruction is wrong and pursuing a strategy of self-imposed ignorance will solve nothing. We can’t afford to let our enemies seize the initiative on any of these fronts.

If you don’t want to participate, that’s understandable—I personally wouldn’t like testing compounds on mice all day—but be glad (as I am) that there are people who have decided to work in these areas.