There are some animals that have a remarkable sense of smell with a level of sensitivity that enables them to…
There are some animals that have a remarkable sense of smell with a level of sensitivity that enables them to explore and understand the world around them. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology analyze the animals’ exceptional smelly ability to develop a chemical sensor that can be applied to critical data from food safety to national safety.
Thomas Spencer is a PhD student in the lab of David Hu, a professor of mechanical engineering and biology at Georgia Tech.
“We turned to animals to understand what nature has already existed,” said Spencer. “We apply the underlying principles we learned about these mechanisms to design a better sensor.”
The research was initiated by a contest to develop a sensor that could identify different types of cheese. The team had traveled to the Atlanta Zoo to compare the ways different animals sniff, from mice to elephants.
“We would measure the sniffing frequency of the animals when they try to identify a new food source or something that interests them,” Spencer explained.
The researchers found that an animal’s sniffing rate decreases as body size increases. For example, mice sniff faster than elephants. Based on these findings, the team designed a custom pump that oscillates back and forth at the same frequency as animals sniff.
“These results are important because it gives us insight into the sniff’s physics,” said Professor Hu. “This information will affect how we cut sniffing machines.”
Wind tunnel experiments and computer simulations gave the experts an opportunity to analyze how the odor particles moved through the air. In addition, they could collect real-time sensor information to observe how the chemical compounds vary through the air in space and time.
While the device was originally designed to distinguish between different types of cheese, the basic principles could be used for many important applications.
“This is still a fairly new study,” said Spencer. “Our hope is to get an excerpt of that ability and replicate it for ourselves.”
Spencer will present the group’s latest design for an electronic nose at the American Physical Society s Division of Fluid Dynamics 71
st Annual General Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. By Earth.com Staff Writer
Image Credit: Thomas Spencer