Building a Better Nose

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Courtesy of iSense

For too long, humankind has accepted that our noses just aren’t up to snuff. We leave the serious smelling to our fellow creatures, especially those four-legged friends who, with the help of just a few dog biscuits, can be trained to sniff out disease. Let this be a battle cry, you pungency-loving pooches: We have technology on our side, and we are not afraid to use it.

Stanford (March-April 2010) reports that there’s a new electronic super-nose the size of a mobile phone that can detect everything from spoiled food to early-stage cancer. “At the core of the device is a sophisticated array of chemical sensors that mimics what the nose does naturally,” Stanford explains. It utilizes an approach its cocreator calls “smell-seeing”: A group of tiny chemical-sensitive dots react to an odor and create a pattern, which is recorded by the device’s camera and analyzed on the spot.

Cancer cells reproduce rapidly, Stanford explains, and some of the effects of this altered metabolism produce “a distinct odor undetectable by humans” that the device is able to detect. Its sensors can also recognize faint levels of toxic chemicals, including ammonia and sulfur dioxide, and could be used as an early-alert system for factory workers in potentially toxic environments.

Your move, Fido.

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