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S’not Good Science

S’not Good Science

By Hannah Isom

Contrary to popular belief, having a nose full of snot can actually refine your sense of smell. Scientists have discovered that the thin layer of mucus inside the human nose is actually the key to making it such an expertly tuned sniffing machine.

Pretty gross you might think, however, the research was all conducted with beautifully clean electronic noses, which use sensors to pick out different odours. Whilst this may sound technologically advanced, the electronic noses are actually pretty rubbish – they really struggle when it comes to telling the difference between a 1969 Bordeaux and a bottle of cheap plonk.

Whereas the super-tuned human nose contains around 100 million specialised odour receptors, the electronic nose only has around 50. So researchers from the Universities of Warwick and Leicester were pretty chuffed when they found that coating the sensors of the robo-nose with a microscopic layer of fake mucus vastly improved its smelling potential. A layer just ten microns thick of the pseudo-snot, a polymer usually used to separate out different gases, was enough to improve the sensitivity of the nose vastly.

The human hooter has a similar, naturally occurring layer of mucus that acts like a filter, dissolving scents into individual odour molecules. These then arrive at the various receptors at different speeds and times. The brain interprets this information as a huge range of different smells.

Scientists used this theory to create their snotty electronic nose, which they tested out on a plethora of different whiffs. There was much rejoicing after learning that the new and improved nose could discern between milk and banana, two previously challenging smells for any electronic device.

It is hoped that the improved nose can be used for quality control in the food production process; and at the bargain basement price of just £5, it’s certainly one innovation not to be sniffed at.

Go visit Hannah or drown your scientific sorrows in booze news:

- News - Mutts make merry with beef beer
- News - The wine-buff bot
- Spoof - Science takes on beer goggles

Image: Christine Frietas

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01 Jan 2009
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