1 May 2007

Synthetic Snot Enhances Artificial Nose

by Kate Melville

UK researchers have used artificial nasal mucus to significantly enhance the performance of an electronic "nose". The bionic bogies were created from a mix of polymers that mimic the action of the mucus in the natural nose. According to the researchers, when the synthetic snot was applied to electronic olfactory sensors, it greatly improved the performance of the sensors, allowing them to pick out a more diverse range of smells.

A human nose uses over 100 million specialized receptors which act together in complex ways to identify and tell apart the molecules they encounter. Electronic noses, used for quality control in the food industry, use the same method but often have less than 50 sensors, meaning they can discern only a much smaller range of smells.

The University of Warwick and Leicester University research team explained that the thin layer of mucus in our noses dissolves scents and separates out different odor molecules so that they arrive at the receptors at different times. Humans are then able to use this information on the time taken to reach different receptors to pick apart a diverse range of smells.

Writing about their artificial mucus in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, the research team explain how they placed a 10-micron-thick layer of a gas-separation polymer on the sensors within their electronic nose. They then tested it on a range of compounds and found that their artificial snot substantially improved the performance of their electronic nose, allowing it to tell apart smells such as milk and banana which had previously been challenging smells for the device.

"Our artificial mucus not only offers improved odor discrimination for electronic noses it also offers much shorter analysis times than conventional techniques," said University of Warwick's Professor Julian Gardner.

Related articles:
Savoring The Flavoring
How Does The Nose Know - An Alphabet Of Odor

Source: University of Warwick