Department of Defense Multidiciplinary University Research Initiative (ARO/MURI)
The Artificial Nose: Modeling Polymeric Chemical Sensors
Caltech, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Harvard Medical School, and Yale University,
have joined forces to understand human olfaction. "Understanding Olfaction: From Detection
to Classification" is a five year project funded under the Multidiciplinary Research
Initiative of the Army Research Office, Department of Defense. The project aims at
increasing our knowledge of the least well understood sensory system of the mammalian nervous
system. Olfaction plays a major role in mammalian behavior, and the ability to detect and
recognize airborne molecules is increasingly important to our society, both in civilian
and defense applications. Prof. James Bower, a computational neurobiologist, and the Co-PI's
Professors William A. Goddard III, a theoretical chemist, Rodney Goodman,
electrical engineer, Nate Lewis, structural chemist, Linda Buck, molecular and cellular
neurobiologist, and Gordon Shepherd, neurobiologist, have come together to collaborate
each bringing their own unique point of view to this challenging and ambitious project.
We expect to have a profound impact on the understanding of the neurobiology of
olfaction, as well as our ability to profit from what is known about biology in the
construction of artificial olfactory-type vapor sensing devices (Artificial Nose).
The outcome will be a device whose performance, capabilties and similarity to
biology is quantifiable.
The scientific and technical impact of this collaboration will be substantial.
In terms of training graduate students and postdocs we will emphasize the
interdiciplinary aspect of this project, cutting across Biology, Engineering,
and Chemistry as well as multi-technical involving both experimental and theoretical
approaches. The ability to detect minute amounts of specific chemicals has many
important defense as well as civilian applications. For example, vapor sensors and
sensor arrays are important to chemical and biological warfare defense, demining, non
proliferation, and a host of other vapor sensing applications that now have no good solution
but in which insight into olfaction might allow construction of artificial sensor
systems that function with the low power, adaptability, and other high performance
features that characterize the mamalian olfactory sense. In addition, neural network
and pattern recognition algorithms are important in advancing the performance of sensor
arrays in a variety of optical and electromagnetic detector systems. Various pattern
recognition algorithms will be developed for robotic search strategies for
autonomous operation and surveillance of airborne molecules in a pletora of DoD-related
The first site visit took place September 22-23 at Caltech. A PowerPoint
presentation for the theoretical chemistry segment of the MURI/ARO Olfaction project
is available below.