Scientists are claiming to have created a new sniffing device that can detect a wide range of chemicals that exceeds even the best bloodhound, and it was created in part by inspiration from the canine’s incredible sense of smell. 

For centuries dogs have benefited mankind in ways other animals cannot by using their incredible sense of smell for all manner of tasks.  Whether it is tracking down an escaped prisoner, hunting wild game, or sniffing out illegal drugs or bombs – dogs are well adapted at detecting even the faintest of odors we as humans would never detect.

Now scientists working at the University of California at Santa Barbara say they have designed a detector that mimics the same way in which a dog smells. The research entry can be found on-line in the Journal, Analytical Chemistry, in an entry titled, ‘Free-Surface Microfluidics/Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy for Real-Time Trace Vapor Detection of Explosives’.  Dr. Carl Meinhart, a mechanical engineer, and Martin Moskovits, a chemist, led the research on the project.

Dr. Meinhart stated the research was partly based on a dog’s olfactory mucus layer, which absorbs and then concentrates airborne molecules. The odor detector uses what they call microfluidic nanotechnology, and this technology mimics what our canine friends are born with but on a more fantastic scale. It is said to be so incredibly sensitive that even the most insignificant amounts of a substance can be detected and differentiated among other substances.

In a seperate November 20, 2012 report from the University of California at Santa Barbara’s School of Engineering, Dr. Meinhart stated that while dogs are currently the best detectors for explosives and other things, they could become distracted or bored at their jobs and possibly miss something.  This new device, according to Meinhart, never tires and can work indefinitely.  “We have developed a device with the same or better sensitivity as a dog’s nose that feeds into a computer to report exactly what kind of molecule it’s detecting”, said Meinhart.

While this device can in fact detect explosives or other substances, its uses could be limitless in regards to medical research.  In fact, Meinhart says that it could sample someone’s breath and detect certain types of cancers.

(Concept illustration of the micoscale free-survade microfluidic channel as it concentrates vapor molecules that bind to the nanoparticles inside a chaber.  A laser beam detects the nanoparticles, which amplify a spectral signature of the detected molecules | Image: UCSB)