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Smell sensors for smartphones for an artificial sense of smell

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Smells are everywhere and reveal a lot about things around us, for example about herbs, about the degree of ripeness of fruits or that of cheese. Smells warn of poisonous solvents or a room fire. But smells have so far been difficult to digitize. Analyzes in the mass spectrometer, for example, are complex and expensive and only determine chemical components. Their meaning is then still to be interpreted separately.

A team led by Professor Christof Wöll at the Institute for Functional Interfaces at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) takes a comparatively simple and direct route in the laboratory. It has developed so-called quartz microbalances as odor sensors. These consist of quartz resonators, which are now available as an electronic mass product for a few cents and, for example in smartphones, ensure that the transmission and reception frequencies are precisely adhered to. These components are very sensitive to changes in weight on their surface.

The researchers coated the quartz resonators with porous materials, so-called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). Molecules in the air flowing past can penetrate there and then find hold in the framework structures of varying strengths. These MOFs can easily be varied chemically. This creates coatings that bind characteristic molecules particularly strongly, which in turn can represent very different smells.

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