3D-printed replica Labrador dog nose improves chemical sniffing

The 3D-printed replica of a female Labrador dog's nose has enabled American researchers to achieve an 18-fold improvement in the accuracy of sniffer devices used to detect explosives and other chemicals.

The 3D-printed nose mimics the way dogs naturally sniff. Conventional artificial noses use suction to draw in the sample of the air, but they don’t exhale as dogs do. When the researchers studied natural dog sniffing, they found that the canines actively sample the air in very short intervals. Five times a second, the sniffing dog draws the air in to the receptor cells in its nose.

“The dog is an active aerodynamic sampling system that literally reaches out and grabs odorants,” said lead scientist Matthew Staymates, from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (Nist).

“It uses fluid dynamics and entrainment to increase its aerodynamic reach to sample vapours at increasingly large distances.”

The researchers then created a 3D-printed replica of the external features of a nose of a female Labrador retriever with the exact same shape, direction and spacing of the nostrils.

By fitting the 3D-printed nose in front of a commercially available explosives detector, the researchers were able to improve the performance of the technology. The dog-like sniffer was four times better than a conventional detector when sniffing a vapour source from a 10cm distance and 18 times better when sniffing from 20cm.

“Applying this bio-inspired design principle could lead to significantly improved vapour samplers for detecting explosives, narcotics, pathogens - even cancer,” Staymates said.

“Their incredible air-sampling efficiency is one reason why the dog is such an amazing chemical sampler. It’s just a piece of the puzzle. There’s lots more to be learned and to emulate as we work to improve the sensitivity, accuracy and speed of trace-detection technology.”

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