A small company in Pasadena, Calif., is commercializing a technology developed by scientists at the nearby California Institute of Technology to put the sense of smell at your fingertips. Using an array of 32 extendable polymers, Cyrano Sciences' handheld electronic nose will someday be capable of sniffing out anything from land mines to halitosis-causing bacteria in humans. Due to be available at the end of the year, this electronic nose will be handheld, easy to use, and fast--with applications in the fields of medicine, chemistry, and food processing.

Based on the work of Nathan Lewis, professor of chemistry at the California Institute of Technology, Cyrano's electronic nose arrays 32 sensors composed of a conductive material (carbon black) impregnated in a polymer matrix. When exposed to odors/vapors, the different polymers in the array expand to varying and predictable degrees, creating a characteristic pattern for each compound--an electronic "fingerprint." Polymer expansion causes...

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