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Rendering of the new CBRNE Assessment Science and Technology Laboratory at ECBC (CASTLE). (Image courtesy of U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center)

Rendering of the new CBRNE Assessment Science and Technology Laboratory at ECBC (CASTLE). (Image courtesy of U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center)

The U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) has built a CASTLE to address the increasing demand for enhanced surface chemical, biological and other threat detection for the U.S. armed forces and first responders.

CASTLE, which stands for CBRNE Assessment, Science and Technology Lab at ECBC, is the Center’s newest laboratory designed for long-distance surface detection in a surety setting. Most laboratories that deal with chemical and biological testing can test detectors from maximum distances of just a few inches away. In the CASTLE, ECBC researchers can support the testing and development of equipment that can detect chemical and biological agents at distances up to 24 meters in a safe surety facility. This new capability will provide better detection and assessment equipment before it goes into the hands of warfighters, ensuring that the equipment is reliable and has a better chance of saving lives.

CASTLE supports the assessment and development of distance detectors in a state-of-the-art, adaptable surety laboratory. In the lab, emerging detection systems can be evaluated and challenged from tens of centimeters to tens of meters against low-volatility materials — including powder, dust and liquids — laying on surfaces in various scenarios. This capability addresses current efforts for the development of enhanced surface detection systems that need to be assessed before moving closer into the hands of users. If a company creates a prototype that is supposed to detect the presence of chemical warfare agent from 15 meters away, that company could leverage CASTLE to safely test that prototype against actual chemical warfare agent at multiple distances. CASTLE is also equipped to handle BioSafety-Level 2 agent and explosive materials.

The ability to detect contaminated areas from long distances is a need of the U.S. armed forces and first responders, as it helps them evaluate whether or not a potentially contaminated area is safe with less risk of exposure. Most detectors require the user to get close to the potentially contaminated scene. There are several detectors and methods in the works designed for long-range detection, however in order for these to make it into the hands of users, they need to be challenged and tested in a laboratory setting like CASTLE.

“In surface contamination detection, we are looking for a detector that a Soldier can use when going into an area that may be compromised and find agent that could be on the ground or elsewhere,” said Darren Emge, ECBC chemist and co-laboratory manager of CASTLE. “We’re trying to support the testing for that as well as development.”

CASTLE is a product of ECBC’s first Grand Challenge Program. The Grand Challenge Program is an internal initiative where ECBC employees can submit proposals to solve challenges facing the warfighter and the Chemical and Biological Defense Program. Emge and his team submitted the ideas for CASTLE and earned funding with the expectation to complete the CASTLE lab within three years. The CASTLE team exceeded expectations by standing up the laboratory in less than a year. Tests for ongoing projects with partners such as a foreign government, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense are currently being performed in CASTLE.

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