Artificial 'snot' helps electronic nose

by Paul Jay, CBC News online

Scientists have fashioned artificial nasal mucus to enhance the performance of electronic noses.

Researchers at The University of Warwick and Leicester University coated the sensors used by odour sensing electronic noses with artificial 'snot' made from a mix of polymers and found it greatly improved their performance.

As they explain:

In the natural nose the thin layer of mucus dissolves scents and separates out different odour molecules in a way [that causes them to] arrive at the nose's receptors at different speeds/times. Humans are then able to use this information on the differences in time taken to reach different nose receptors to pick apart a diverse range of smells.

A natural nose uses over 100 million specialized receptors or sensors which act together in complex ways to identify and tell apart the molecules they encounter. Electronic noses, used in a number of commercial settings including quality control in the food industry, use the same method but often have less than 50 sensors. This means that electronic noses can discern a much smaller range of smells than the natural nose.

The researchers mimicked the human process with a 10-micron-thick layer of a polymer normally used to separate gases on the sensors.

The research, published in the journal of Proceedings of the Royal Society A, could be useful for early cancer detection, and improved food inspection.

That's right, fake snot can be useful, and not just gooey. Just in time for allergy season.