The electronic nose could, for example, unmask counterfeits of expensive types of tea.  An attachment for smartphones is also conceivable, so that you have the right nose with you when looking for plants in nature.

In the future, an “electronic nose” will help to distinguish between certain plants.

Karlsruhe – In the future, an “electronic nose” will help to distinguish between certain plants. This could then, for example, expose counterfeits of expensive types of tea, said Christof Wöll from the Institute for Functional Interfaces at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).

The electronic nose could, for example, unmask counterfeits of expensive types of tea. An attachment for smartphones is also conceivable, so that you have the right nose with you when looking for plants in nature. © Uli Deck/dpa

An attachment for smartphones is also conceivable, so that you have the right nose with you when looking for plants in nature. “The mobile phone then serves as a data center.”

The researchers cite medical diagnostics and quality control in pharmacy as other possible applications.

Fragrances are to be deposited on the surface of twelve special sensors, each consisting of two electrodes with a quartz crystal. This changes their so-called resonance frequency; The data creates a kind of fingerprint of the respective fragrance.

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According to the information, the materials for the sensors were developed at KIT, among others, and are highly porous, so that they can absorb many molecules like a sponge.

A combination of different materials forms a kind of neural network.

At the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the sensor of an “electronic nose” that recognizes different mint scents is shown on a mint plant and a human nose. © Uli Deck/dpa

In comparison, the human nose has around 350 different types of receptors, Professor Wöll said. Theoretically, one could distinguish about 100,000 different smells. Dogs can do this with around a million smells, said the physicist. “Our goal is to beat the human and get to the dog.”

The scientists practiced the “electronic nose” using machine learning methods and six different types of mint, including classic peppermint, horsenip and catnip. Next up could be training with truffles, Wöll said.

According to him, the developers are currently thinking about founding a company that will develop specific devices for the application. Engineers are also in demand here. Ultimately, the planned supplements for mobile phones can be produced for a few euros – and are therefore significantly cheaper and more portable than, for example, large systems for so-called mass spectrometry.

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“Electronic noses” have been built for decades and used in food production and in industry, among other things. KIT has also been working for some time on making such odor sensors as suitable for mass use and everyday use as possible.

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