A natural nose uses over 100 million receptors that, acting together, identify and distinguish molecules they encounter. Electronic noses, used in several commercial settings, including quality control in the food industry, use the same technique but often have less than 50 sensors.
The team has created an artificial mucus layer that make electronic noses more adept at detecting and distinguishing odors. They placed a 10-micron-thick layer of a polymer normally used to separate gases on the sensors within their electronic nose. Tests showed that their artificial snot substantially improved the performance of their electronic nose, letting it differentiate between the smell of milk and bananas, a task that was previously a challenge smells for the device.
According to one researcher, "Our artificial mucus not only improves odor discernment, it also shortens analysis times."
The final device including the sensors and the artificial mucus is contained in a relatively thin piece of plastic just a few centimeters square and costing less than five UK pounds (10 US Dollars) to produce.