The 'e-Nose': Scientists try to develop an electronic sniffer

Nov 02, 2009
The 'e-Nose': Scientists try to develop an electronic sniffer
Credit: American Chemical Society

Sniff, sniff, sniff -- Yum! Sniff, sniff, sniff -- Oh, yuck!!! For almost 25 years, chemists and other scientists have tried to build a machine that can do exactly that.

They want an “electronic nose” that can take a whiff of the air, food or other objects and say whether the odor is nasty or nice. Such a machine could work in factories, and help tell whether food is fresh. An also could sniff for harmful . And unlike people, it could work 24 hours a day and 7 days a week without getting tired.

A German scientist named Udo Weimar and his team decided to check up on how much progress has been made toward an e-nose in those 25 years. It is not an easy task - odors are really complicated!

Next time you eat, notice the aroma arising off your plate. That smell is made up of hundreds or thousands of chemicals that float through the air and into your nose. For example, it takes more than 1,000 chemicals to make up the rich, deep aroma of coffee. Those chemicals land on millions of special cells in your nose. Those cells have the amazing ability to change the chemicals into nerve signals. They send a message to the brain, which figures out whether your food smells fantastic - or funky.

Dr. Weimar found that electronic noses are pretty good at detecting a few odors, including some that people cannot smell. is an important example. Since humans cannot smell this , electronic noses could warn people before they become ill. E-noses could also help sniff out bombs by detecting certain explosive chemicals.

However, present-day e-noses cannot detect nearly as many important smells as humans, dogs, and other animals. So while today’s electronic snouts can’t stop and smell the roses like we do, they may help keep us safer.

This fragrant study appeared in ACS’ Chemical Reviews, a monthly scientific journal.

More information: Listen to the audio version of this story on ACS’ Bytesize Science, an educational, entertaining podcast for young listeners. Click here to listen to Bytesize Science in iTunes.

Provided by American Chemical Society (news : web)

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nuge
not rated yet Nov 02, 2009
I thought they still didn't know whether smells corresponded to the shapes of molecules or the vibrational frequencies the molecules have. Nowhere does it say how this nose supposedly works. This article was a bit heavy on interesting phrasing and a bit light on the underlying science.