The Loh Down On Science

A weekly look at Southern California life, news, arts and culture, and more. Hosted by Sandra Tsing Loh

Not Mucus

by The Loh Down On Science

Scientists perfect the electronic nose.

Now there's one more thing machines can do just like men -make mucus!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science

Saying indeed--

Scientists have whipped up a substitute for the yellowish fluid that drips from our nostrils.

Why? Turns out mucus gives us a sharper sense of smell. That gooey coating slows down certain chemicals as they travel through our nose, separating complex odors into different parts.

Researchers at the University of Warwick decided to try the same idea on ELECTRONIC noses. These smell detectors are used for food quality and environmental testing. Until now, they'd been mucus-free--and, not coincidentally, less accurate than humans.

To imitate the action of mucus, the scientists applied a polymer made of carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine to the nose's sensors. Called Parylene C, it forms a smooth, impenetrable film that has previously been used to protect medical and electronic devices.

Just as the researchers hoped, the fake mucus slowed down some odor molecules. The stuffed-up robo-nose was better at distinguishing between similar smells, like vanilla and peppermint.

In short, you may think that robotic nose looks funny, but it's snot.

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