THE AMAZING ELECTRONIC NOSE
HAVING AN ACUTE SENSE OF SMELL is an integral component to being a wine professional. But could the human nose be on the way out? A group of Swedish and Spanish engineers have invented an “electronic nose” capable of detecting fruit aromas more effectively than a human. Using its 32 sensors, the device, which the researchers claim is more sensitive than a human nose, can currently only distinguish between the odors emitted by chopped apples and pears. “The fruit samples are placed in a chamber into which an air flow is injected that reaches the tower with the sensors, which are metal oxide semiconductors that detect odorous compounds such as methane or butane,” said researcher José Pelegrí Sebastiá. Software is then used to gather real time data and the information is processed through classification algorithms. The results can be viewed on a 3D graph that distinguishes between the apple scores and the pear scores.
The study, published in the journal SENSORS AND ACTUATORS A, is the starting point for research the team is involved in to develop multisensory systems that increase the capacity to differentiate complex mixtures of volatile substances. Sebastiá believes the technology could one day be used in the wine industry to distinguish between grape varieties and recognize a wine’s vintage. However, the news has naturally been met with skepticism from winemakers. “The human nose is amazingly sensitive and can detect whether or not something smells good; I’m not sure how you could program a computer to do that,” Daniel Baron, chief winemaker at Silver Oak Cellars in the Napa Valley, said. He did concede however, that the electronic nose might come in useful when winemakers lose their sense of smell through a head cold. “If I get a cold in January all work stops. Maybe with a mechanical nose I wouldn’t have to worry about it,” he said.