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The electronic nose detects cancer, bombs and wine

Published Nov 15, 2010

What about an electronic nose capable of identifying exactly when it is time to harvest grapes, distinguish pork from beef, smell for bombs, drugs and spoiled food or find the perfect perfume mixture. This at a fraction of the price compared to what current technology which manages to do the same thing costs. Scientists from KTH have created such a nose.

Electronic nose
Here's what the electronic nose looks like

What makes the electronic nose especially interesting is that it produces better results compared to similar technologies in other companies and universities. The physics professor Thomas Lindblad and José Chilo, former PhD student at KTH and now professor at the University of Gävle, are together responsible for the research and the electronic nose.

The work has attracted a lot of attention. The fact that the electronic nose with a great degree of certainty can distinguish between the scent of ovarian tumours and tissue from healthy women has recently been published in the scientific journal Future Oncology.

“We're talking about an accuracy on the distinction between sick and healthy tissue samples of between 88 to 92 percent depending on the method. With twice the number of sensors, we can achieve 95 percent, which I think is fully sufficient in cancer screening," says Thomas Lindblad.

The actual analysis is quick, it takes about 20 seconds. The price is also low, about one-tenth of the price of the equipment that performs cancer diagnoses.

“Gas chromatography costs around a million crowns; but if the nose is used to analyze cancer, it will cost around SEK 100,000,” says Thomas Lindblad.

For example, if an ICA retailer were to use the equipment to distinguish the fit food from spoiled food, the price tag would be around SEK 1,000 for the equipment as it would not need as many sensors or need to be as advanced.

Thomas Lindblad continues by saying that it's just a bit harder to trace drugs compared to that of explosives, and as regards the latter, the nose has so far produced an accuracy rate of 100 percent. As regards the mixing of perfumes, the electronic nose is the right way to go because there is a very minute difference as to whether a perfume smells good or awful. This is something the nose can deal with.

“It is critical to know exactly on the hour when the grapes should be harvested so that the wine will be as good as possible. The nose will also be helpful here. It also applies, for example, to apples and their degree of ripeness," says Thomas Lindblad.

Another thing my nose could be tested on is to find out exactly when a specific wine in an opened bottle really starts to go off and get bad. There are a lot of myths about different wines which the nose could remove with scientific precision. To quickly find out whether a piece of meat is pork or beef could be of interest to practicing Muslims.

For more information, contact Thomas Lindblad at 08-55 37 81 84 or

Peter Larsson