Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a technique for discerning odors that is far more sensitive than the human nose and has numerous potential applications in the workplace as well as the home. Ten to 100 times more sensitive than the human nose for many compounds, the artificial nose works by visualizing odors; it is simple, fast, and inexpensive. The technique, termed "smell-seeing" by its inventors, uses an array of vapor-sensitive dyes known as metalloporphyrins that change color when they interact with different chemicals (N. Rakow and K. Suslick, "A colorimetric sensor array for odour visualization," Nature, 406:710-3, Aug. 17, 2000). Resulting changes in the array provide a fingerprint unique to each vapor with color intensity indicative of chemical concentration. To create an array, the researchers paint a series of different dye dots on an inert backing such as paper, plastic, or glass. Researchers scan the array...

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