The U.S. Marines have a new nonlethal weapon: spray-on slime. The Mobility Denial System consists of a milky-white, non-hazardous anti-traction gel that is sprayed out over the desired area in a 1/8-inch thickness to form an impenetrable barrier.

The military is always looking for new ways to handle situations without deadly force, Marine Corps Major Guillermo Canedo says, and this can help with crowd control, riots, protesters, and guarding buildings and sensitive areas, such as embassies.

Scientists at San Antonio?s Southwest Research Institute were hired by the Marines to develop the anti-gravity goo. ?The idea is to put it on surfaces like walkways, stairs, banisters, buildings…there?s no limit,? says Ronald Mathis, principal engineer on the project.

Canedo says the slippery foam is still in the test phase. ?It?s exciting when you can have another option and can make it available to commanders in the field,? he says. ?This will just be one more arrow in our quiver.? If the final product is approved, the Marines could be using MDS sometime in late 2003, and eventually other branches of the military and police departments will also be able to stop crime with slime.

The product was tested at the research institute on December 13, stopping human and automobile traffic in its tracks. Volunteers wearing safety harnesses tried to cross a patch of lawn sprayed with the solution but ended up with their feet in the air. A van driver made the same attempt, only to lose control of his vehicle. ?It is so viscous, like oysters,? says Bill Mallow, a chemist who worked on the project. ?You can?t swish it out from underneath your feet, it props the vehicle or foot up off the surface, giving the effect of hydroplaning.?

This effect is possible because the substance is 95 percent water. Mallow says the active ingredient, which is top-secret, is a polymer similar to the material that soft contact lenses are made from. ?We spent about a year screening all kinds of slippery materials before we identified this combination of polymers. It?s a very snotty material, like a garden snail,? Mallow says.

The gel is environmentally friendly and nonpoisonous, and remains effective for 6 to 12 hours, depending on weather conditions. Once it dries, it can be swept up or doused with water to reactivate it.

There are two ways to distribute it, says Canedo. ?A man-portable system carries about enough material to cover a 2,000 sq. foot area, and a vehicle mounted system could be put on a Humvee and using a water sprayer could cover an area of 100,00 sq. feet, or 2 football fields.?

Color can be added to the goo to make the sprayed zone obvious. Mathis says it sounds funny, but it?s not so funny when you step on it. ?People ask us if they can get some for their kids birthday parties,? he says. ?But this is not like a slip and slide. If you put one foot on it you?re going to go down ? and you?re going down fast.?

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