Smell receptors in the human nose detect smells with the help of a thin mucus layer, which dissolves scents and uses chromatography.

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"Humans detect smells using more than 100 million specialised receptors on the roof of the nasal cavity, just behind the bridge of the nose. The complex manner in which multiple receptors react to a molecule is used to identify and differentiate them...the receptors in a human nose are covered in a thin layer of mucus, which helps them detect scents.

"This layer of mucus dissolves scents and separates their components chemically, using chromatography. Different odour molecules then reach receptors at slightly varied times. As a result, the receptors have another way to distinguish between compounds." (Simonite 2007)

"Here, we report on a biologically inspired analytical system that represents a new concept in the field of machine olfaction. Specifically, this paper describes the design and fabrication of a novel sensor system, based upon the principle of 'nasal chromatography', which emulates the human olfactory mucosa. Our approach exploits the physical positioning of a series of broadly tuned sensors (equivalent to the olfactory epithelium) along the length of a planar chromatographic channel (analogous to the thin mucus coating of the nasal cavity) from which we extract both spatial (response magnitude) and temporal (retentive delay) sensor signals. Our study demonstrates that this artificial mucosa is capable of generating both spatial and temporal signals which, when combined, create a novel spatio-temporal representation of an odour. We believe that such a system not only offers improved odour discrimination over a sensor array-based electronic nose, but also shorter analysis times than conventional gas chromatographic techniques." (Gardner et al. 2007:1713)

Journal article
K9 Water Searches: Scent and Scent Transport ConsiderationsJournal of Forensic SciencesApril 11, 2011
Tom Osterkamp

Journal article
Towards an artificial olfactory mucosa for improved odour classificationProceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering SciencesApril 25, 2007
Julian W. Gardner, James A. Covington, Su-Lim Tan, Timothy C. Pearce

Journal article
Mucus substitute helps artificial nose scent successTom Simonite

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