The former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter are in a critical condition in a hospital in Salisbury, UK, following exposure to an unknown nerve agent. Several locations in the city have been cordoned off and decontaminated since the pair were found unconscious on a park bench on March 5. But what are nerve agents exactly and how do they affect the body?
The first nerve agents were invented by accident in the 1930s when researchers were trying to make cheaper and better alternatives to nicotine as insecticides. In their search, German scientists made two organic compounds containing phosphorus that were very effective at killing insect pests. However, they soon discovered that, even in minuscule amounts, the substances caused distressing symptoms in humans exposed to them.
The two substances – too toxic to be used as commercial insecticides in agriculture – became known as tabun and sarin. The research was handed over to the Wehrmacht (the Nazi armed forces), which evaluated them as weapons and began constructing plants to manufacture them. The sarin plant was not operational by the time the Third Reich collapsed, but fell in to the hands of Soviet forces that overran Poland and Germany.
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If you haven't been watching Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams on Aussie streaming service Stan, you're missing out. For those who missed the memo, this sci-fi anthology show is based on ten short stories by visionary author Philip K. Dick, the man whose words inspired the cinematic brilliance of Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly and Minority Report.
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