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Advancing Gas Sensing and Odor Detection with Biomimetic Olfactory Chips

Advancing Gas Sensing and Odor Detection with Biomimetic Olfactory Chips

The School of Engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has made remarkable progress in tackling a pervasive challenge: the creation of artificial olfactory sensors using diverse high-performing gas sensor arrays. The team at HKUST has pioneered the novel Biomimetic Olfactory Chips (BOC), a device equipped to integrate nanotube sensor arrays on nanoporous substrates with up to 10,000 individually addressable gas sensors on a single chip. These BOCs operate similarly to olfactory systems in humans and animals.

Over many years, global researchers in artificial olfaction and electronic noses (e-noses) have been striving to replicate the biological olfactory system's intricate mechanism. However, the intricacies involved in miniaturizing the system and bolstering its recognition capabilities in identifying specific gas species and their concentrations within complex mixtures of odors have been the stumbling block.

Under the leadership of Prof. FAN Zhiyong, Chair Professor at HKUST's Department of Electronic & Computer Engineering and Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering, the team overcame these challenges. They managed to house a broad array of diverse sensors on a single, nanostructured chip using an engineered material composition gradient. Powered by artificial intelligence, these BOCs have exhibited extraordinary sensitivity to a variety of gases and outstandingly distinguish between mixed gases and 24 different odors.

With the goal of expanding their applications, the team at HKUST has charted unknown territory. They have combined the olfactory chip with vision sensors on a robot dog, which resulted in an integrated olfactory-visual system. This system has proved capable of accurately identifying objects in blind boxes.

New possibilities are opening up for intelligent systems, such as advanced robots and portable smart devices, due to the successful development of BOCs. Their potential applications extend to security patrols, rescue operations, and industries such as food, environmental, medical, and industrial process control.

In real-time monitoring and quality control, for instance, the BOCs can detect specific odors or volatile compounds linked with different stages of industrial processes. This ensures safety measures are at place, leaks in pipes are promptly fixed, and dangerous gases in the environment are quickly identified.

The groundbreaking development signals the dawn of the scent digitization era, where the future of digitized information would not merely be limited to the visual. As such, a whole new dimension in sensory digitization can potentially be tapped, enriching and enhancing our quality of life.

"As per the vision for the future, with the help of suitable bio-compatible materials, the biomimetic olfactory chip can even be placed on the human body. It will help humans detect odors normally undetectable to our senses. Moreover, the chip could monitor variations in volatile organic molecules in our breath and skin, warning us of potential diseases, thereby furthering the potential of biomimetic engineering", said Prof. Fan.

Disclaimer: The above article was written with the assistance of AI. The original sources can be found on ScienceDaily.