Dogs Inspire New Electronic Nose
November 20, 2012

An Electronic Nose Modeled After A Dog’s

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

[ Watch the Video: Nanotech Device Mimics Dog´s Nose to Detect Explosives ]

A dog´s nose is 1,000 times better at picking up scents than a human´s nose. Dogs have long been used to sniff out drugs and explosives at the nation´s borders and airports. As such, it only makes sense to model an electronic nose after the canine´s.

The University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) has managed to do just that, creating an electronic nose capable of sniffing out vapors that, until now, only dogs could be able to discern. The UCSB team feel so confident in their new electronic nose, they even claim that, in some cases, their nose will even outperform a dog´s.

The team responsible for this electronic sniffer was led by professors Carl Meinhart of mechanical engineering and Martin Moskovits of chemistry. Their new nose uses nanotechnology to replicate the same sort of olfactory sensors inside a dog´s snout. Not only is this device capable of picking up on very small amounts of particles from vapors, it´s also capable of distinguishing one scent from another.

“Dogs are still the gold standard for scent detection of explosives. But like a person, a dog can have a good day or a bad day, get tired or distracted,” said Meinhart, according to a statement.

“We have developed a device with the same or better sensitivity as a dog´s nose that feeds into a computer to report exactly what kind of molecule it´s detecting.”

With their testing complete, the team will now publish their results in this month´s edition of Analytical Chemistry. In their paper, the team shows how their electronic nose is able to detect 2,4-dinitrotoluene, the main vapor which is released from TNT explosives.

Humans aren´t capable of sniffing it out, but specially trained dogs are highly adept at picking out this trace vapor.

“The device consists of two parts,” explains Moskovits.

“There´s a microchannel, which is like a tiny river that we use to trap the molecules and present them to the other part, a mini spectrometer powered by a laser that detects them. These microchannels are twenty times smaller than the thickness of a human hair.”

“The device is capable of real-time detection and identification of certain types of molecules at concentrations of 1 ppb or below. Its specificity and sensitivity are unparalleled,” explained Dr. Brian Piorek.

Dr. Piorek is a former mechanical engineering doctoral student who worked under Meinhart. Currently, Dr. Piorek is the Chief Scientist at SpectraFluidics, which has patented this technology and plans to sell it to governments and militaries.

“The paper we published focused on explosives, but it doesn´t have to be explosives. It could detect molecules from someone´s breath that may indicate disease, for example, or food that has spoiled,” said Moskovits.

While this nose may be able to outperform a dog when it comes to detecting explosives or other materials, these electronic noses lack the powerful olfactory cells found in the canine snout.

A new study this week has shown that the olfactory cells in a dog´s nose can be used to restore a broken spinal cord. One such dog, a dachshund named Jasper, can walk with all 4 legs once again after having these cells injected into his once-paralyzed legs.