April 30, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Snot Serious: Artificial Nose Works Better with Mucus

What will they think of next?  Designers of electronic noses cannot yet come close to the natural nose in sensitivity.  But in trying to improve their devices, they tried another trick from nature: artificial boogers.  Yes, believe it or snot, adding a layer of synthetic mucus “improved the performance of their electronic nose allowing it to tell apart smells such as milk and banana which had previously been challenging smells for the device.”  So reported University of Warwick in all seriousness.  Science Daily also had a nose for the news.
    Why did this work?  In the natural nose, a mucus layer entraps incoming particles.  This “dissolves scents and separates out different odour molecules in a way they arrive at the noses receptors at different speeds/times,” the press release says.  “Humans are then able to use this information on the differences in time taken to reach different nose receptors to pick apart a diverse range of smells.”  The electronic nose has only 50 receptors, compared to a human’s “100 million specialised receptors or sensors which act together in complex ways to identify and tell apart the molecules they encounter.”  That’s not something to sneeze at.

You probably had no idea that mucus had that function.  You knew that it conveys dust and particles out of the nasal passage and helps keep those sensitive linings moist, but did you realize it actually enhances your sense of smell?  Amazing.  Think of all the information you toss out with each tissue.  Now they need to figure out how to blow an electronic nose.  (Do NOT use the electronic finger.)

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