Question Sheet: Picture the Smell


Before reading:

  1. What can you tell about something by its smell? 
  2. In what ways can you tell that dogs have a better sense of smell than people


During reading:

  1. What makes an electronic nose potentially more useful than a human nose? 
  2. For how long have researchers been developing electronic noses? 
  3. Give an example of how a dye can respond to different chemicals. 
  4. How does a chip-based electronic nose turn smells into colorful data? 
  5. Why is NASA interested in developing an electronic nose? 
  6. When was NASA’s ENose first tested? When will a new, advanced version of

    ENose be tested?

After reading:

  1. How might electronic-nose technology be useful for protecting against

    terrorist attacks? See (ideas21) or Sensor Technology). 

  2. Compared with animals, how sensitive are people to different smells? See (Social Issues Research

    Council) or (Wikipedia). Design an

    experiment that would demonstrate how sensitive the human nose is to different


  3. How does smell influence taste? How are these two senses linked? See 
  4. How would life be different if you had no sense of smell or suddenly lost

    it? What problems might you encounter? See (American

    Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery) 

  5. An electronic nose is a sensor that can detect things that people cannot

    sense. What other devices exist that do the same sort of thing? Find at least

    three examples of such sensors or detectors.


Pick a spot near where you live and, for a few minutes, focus on what you can smell at that location. How many smells can you identify? Find out what the area where you live was like 100 years ago. If you had been in the same spot 100 years ago, would you detect the same smells? What other smells might you detect?


  1. Suppose that you work for NASA as a writer or publicist. Write a paragraph

    summarizing what you would want to tell the public about NASA’s new ENose. What would you emphasize? What facts would you include? What would make the news item interesting to the general public? 

  2. Imagine that you woke up one morning and found that you could no longer

    smell anything. How would you react? What would you do? Write a paragraph

    describing your initial reaction to the problem.


One version of an electronic nose has 36 dyes, arranged in six rows of six dots each. If each dye can take on two colors, how many different color patterns can you see with an array of 36 dyes?