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Biotechnology: Sniffing out improvements in vapour detection

Scientific Reports

December 1, 2016

Sniffing may improve the ability of vapour detectors to detect chemicals such as TNT, according to a study in Scientific Reports this week. Using a 3D printed model of a dog nose, the authors investigated the aerodynamics of sniffing and used their findings to fabricate an inlet for an explosives detector which could then “sniff” like a dog. The modification was found to produce a 16-fold improvement in the device’s detection ability.

Using a 3D printed, anatomically-similar dog’s nose, Matthew Staymates and colleagues investigated the external aerodynamics of canine sniffing. In flow visualization experiments, the authors found that during the expiratory phase of sniffing, air jets leaving the nose draw vapour-laden air from in front of the nose towards the nostrils. They found that odorant detection increased by a factor of 18 when the nose “sniffed” compared to continuously inhaling air.

Based on their findings, the authors designed a custom inlet for a commercially available vapour detection system that mimics the same aerodynamic principles used by dogs. They found that, compared to continuously drawing in air (the normal operating mode for the device), sniffing produced a 16-fold improvement in the detection of TNT vapours.

The authors suggest that the lessons learned from dogs may benefit the next generation of vapour samplers for use in the detection of explosives and narcotics.

doi: 10.1038/srep36876

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