LOS ANGELES — Dogs have a sense of smell 10,000 to 100,000 times better than humans.
They help us track fugitives, detect drugs and bombs, pinpoint imported shark fins in suitcases, and find banned cell phones in prison. Dogs have sniffed out cancer on people’s skin, and can even be trained to detect falling glucose levels and oncoming seizures. They are one of nature’s best chemical detectors, and that’s what inspired the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to create a 3D-printed replica nose of a female Labrador retriever.
Trace detection technology is common at airports, seaports, and high security areas, but they are usually examples of passive sampling. A dog’s sniffing, however, is active rather than passive. They exhale five times a second, and in doing so are actually pulling in more air as the exhaled air is pushed down and backwards.
Scientists experimented by adding this bio-inspired adapter to existing chemical detectors, and the replica nose significantly improved odorant detection. It sniffed four times better at a distance of 10cm, and up to 18 times better at a distance of 20cm.
Watch the video to see how one dog’s sense of smell brought him home.