By Mark Waghorn
An electronic nose that may put bomb-sniffing dogs out of a job has been developed.
It can also detect diseases like COVID-19 – and contaminated food, scientists say.
The device has been trained to identify VOCs (volatile organic compounds) – potentially harmful chemicals found in viruses, raw meat, insects and even explosives.
They are also present in paints, pharmaceuticals and refrigerants, among other common products.
The chemicals, emitted as gases, have potentially adverse health effects and tracing them is important for public safety and all “smell” related issues.
Pandemics are expected to become more frequent in the coming decades owing to climate change. Rapid diagnosis is key to bringing them under control.
Every disease has an odor because they change metabolic processes. Metabolites have a smell.
The e-nose resembles a showerhead – designed to boost vertical flow as gas spreads through holes at the bottom and around to evenly distributed sensors.
It consistently recognizes VOCs at low concentrations – opening the door to mass screening in airports, offices, factories and even sporting events.
Current olfactory-system-inspired alternatives face many challenges as they generate different signals depending on the location.
Lead author Dr. Weiwei Wu, of Xidian University, China, said: “To counteract this problem, the fluidic behavior of the gas flow needs to be well controlled.
“This ensures a uniform fluidic field and concentration of VOCs in the chamber and avoids generating any fake sensing characteristics.”
Using simulations his team optimized the volume, symmetry, hole and sensor location. They added a shunt-like device to promote fluid flow and shorten response time.
Based on the results, the researchers fabricated a Teflon chamber and measured performance.
The chamber with the shunt device was more than twice as successful at identifying a sample.
In the future, the researchers plan to focus on minimizing the chamber and improving the structure further to improve performance.
Dr. Wu said: “E-nose research is a highly interdisciplinary field.
“Chemists, physicists, biologists, electronics engineers and data scientists need to work together to solve issues including effective sensing that considers the fundamental mechanisms, algorithms that achieve precise recognition of VOCs more quickly and with lower energy consumption, and how new technologies should be involved.”
The study was published in the journal Applied Physics Reviews.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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