How Sarin Works

Sarin's Gruesome Genesis

Sarin was invented in 1938 by the Germans in the run-up to World War II. Its name is derived from the names of the four chemists (Schrader, Ambros, Rudiger and Van der Linde) who created it.

The scientists who concocted sarin initially wanted to make more effective pesticide for their company, IG Farben. It was Gerhard Schrader who accidentally made the breakthrough discovery.

In 1936, Schrader was testing a range of chemicals called organophosphates, which killed insects by disrupting their nervous systems. His experiments resulted in tabun (GA), a liquid that has no taste or color but that causes serious harm to the nervous systems of many creatures, including mammals. Schrader discovered tabun's effectiveness the hard way when he accidentally exposed himself to it and subsequently needed weeks to recover.

In spite of that setback, he was enthusiastic enough about his discovery that he reported it to the chemical weapons officials of the Third Reich. They immediately classified his work and ordered more experiments. Two years later, the Nazis developed sarin, which was 10 times as potent as tabun. Yay for scientific research, right?

Sarin and tabun were two of the so-called G-agents made by the Germans during the war era. The other two were soman (GD) and cyclosarin (GF). No matter the name, all of these inventions were horrifying in their own special ways.

These days, roughly 70 substances are classified as chemical weapons, and they can take the form of solids, gasses or liquids. They are sub-categorized in groups named for the bodily systems they effect, such as blister agents, pulmonary agents, blood agents, vomiting agents or in sarin's case, nerve agents.

Sarin is not only exceptionally deadly, but it's cheap and easy to make. On the next page you'll read all about why sarin is such an effective chemical weapon.