Pamela Abshire, Elisabeth Smela

Funding Agency

National Science Foundation




The gold standard against which chemical sensors are compared is the dog's nose. However, dogs are expensive to train and can only be used a few hours per day. By detecting the electrical signals produced by olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs), it should be possible to achieve high-sensitivity, high-specificity, high-speed, stand-off detection of trace amounts of compounds associated with volatile human compounds characteristic of gender, stress, individual "fingerprint," and various medical conditions. The team plans to develop a miniaturized system for human biometric characterization using, initially immortalized cell lines for detection of human compounds and then developing techniques for direct detection of airborne odorants using artificial mucous, thin membranes, continuous perfusion with water or a combination. Cell-based chemical sensors will have broad societal benefits through diverse applications, outside of biometric detection: explosives detection, monitoring food and air, odor-based medical diagnosis, drug detection in airports, and screening of pharmaceuticals, to name a few.

Cell-Based Olfactory Sensing for Biometrics is a six-year, $391K grant.