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The 'Nose' Knows a Sweet Smell of Success
Have you ever wondered why natural gas has such a distinctive odor? Because it's added purposely before being piped into our homes! The smell gives us a warning that there may be a leak.

What about detecting chemical leaks in enclosed spaces, like the International Space Station or Space Shuttle? NASA built "E-Nose" to come to the rescue!

The Agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and the California Institute of Technology jointly developed a method for a machine to "smell." Given the catchy name E-Nose, the device is an electronic nose that uses computers and special sensing film to work much like a human nose.

E-Nose technology has the ability to send a signal to an environmental control system where a central computer decides how to handle the problem, without human interaction. The device also can be "trained" in one session to detect many specific contaminants.

Hand-held Cyranose 320 "The more automated you can make this kind of thing, the better off the crew is," said Amy Ryan, principal investigator for E-Nose at JPL.

The 3-pound, paperback-book sized E-Nose took a ride on a Space Shuttle flight and successfully proved its value in identifying contaminants in the air. After that flight, JPL began working on a way to expand its capability and reduce its size.

Image Right: The Cyranose 320 is a lightweight, portable device, used for quality control purposes in the food and chemical industries. Image credit: NASA.

Commercial companies were quick to see E-Nose's potential. In March 1997, JPL licensed the technology to Cyrano Sciences, Inc., of Pasadena, Calif. The company renamed the device "Cyranose 320" and put it to work in the food industry, testing for spoilage. The technology is also being tested to detect toxic materials, water pollutants and chemical leaks.

Several medical institutions are determining how well the electronic nose can be adapted to provide physicians with a quicker and more accurate way to diagnose health issues, perhaps eliminating the need for invasive testing and unpleasant procedures.

Cyrano Sciences joined Smiths Detection in March and researchers are working on early-stage technology, with a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, to develop miniature sensors used principally for homeland security.

In the meantime, E-Nose technology will continue to "sniff out" ways to keep us safe here on Earth and in space as we go forward with America's Vision for Space Exploration.

For further information, visit:
Spinoff Online: Commercialized NASA Technology
NASA Connections to Everyday Life

To learn more about electronic detection, visit:
Courtesy of the NASA Innovative Technology Transfer Partnerships Program
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center and Spinoff On-Line
Elaine M. Marconi, KSC Staff Writer