It has been said that there’s no better source of inspiration for man and science, than nature itself.
It turns out dog noses, (Yes, dog noses!) are just as inspirational for scientists and inventors as dragonfly wings were for inventing the helicopter.
Whether our man-made high-tech gadgets and thingamajigs can ever equal or outperform their natural doggie counterparts remain a question, but at least now we admit to be in awe of our doggies’ beyond-human sniffing abilities.
Bomb-sniffing dog have for some time been part of federal efforts to detect drugs and explosives at airports and other checkpoints.
Now, a new $228,977 3D printer will churn out some of the best artificial dog noses anywhere.
Because dogs outperform most man-made devices created to detect odors with precision, scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) started to focus on the shape of dog noses and how they have been naturally honed for the task.
It turns out there’s a very clear method to their sniffing madness. The devices patterned on dog noses and sniffing patterns expel strong air jets away from the nostrils upon exhaling just like dogs. This helps pull in new smelly air from quite impressive distances. This was explained by NIST scientist, Matthew Staymates. And this process is repeated both by dog noses and their artificial counterparts, up to five times a second.
Aside from having more sample space from the quick sniffs, dog noses have a few other things going for them. Dog noses have about 50 times as many olfactory receptors that discern odors compared to humans. A huge portion of a dog’s brain is devoted to accommodating the vast information that their noses bring in. This was explained by Paul Waggoner, senior scientist at Auburn University’s Canine Detection Research Institute. He isn’t directly involved in this NIST project but enthusiastic enough to share his valuable insights.
But the quick sniffs help, too. In fact, Waggoner said. “If you watch or look at somebody who’s apprenticed to become a master wine or food taster, they begin to take on some of the same characteristics,” he said, referring to the repeated inhales.
The artificial noses, printed by the Connex 500, have proved to be very useful to Staymates and his colleagues at NIST’s Material Measurement Laboratory. They use it in “flow visualization experiments” in their “Schlieren Optical System”, which visually renders the variations in air temperature and density and depicts vapor flows colorfully for better analysis with the human eye.
Still, these newly invented artificial dog noses won’t be giving our canine friends a run for their money anytime soon. The dogs are still far ahead as these artificial dog noses are primarily for research purposes, not for actual security checkpoints. Our canine friends still rule on this domain!