Taking Taste-Taking to a New Level
While it may not be the world’s first artificial tongue, researchers at the University of Glasgow have developed the first single artificial tongue made with two types of nanoscale metal “tastebuds” and they’ve developed it for a very specific reason – whiskey tasting. The hope is that this could help cut down the trade of counterfeit alcohol.
Exploiting the optical properties of gold and aluminum, the researchers poured samples of whiskey over the “tongue” and measured how they absorbed the light while submerged. Observing the plasmonic resonance allowed the team to identify different types of whiskies. Using samples of a selection of whiskies from Glenfiddich, Glen Marnoch, and Laphroaig, the tongue wasn’t just able to identify the difference in brand, but also the more subtle differences between the same whiskey aged in different barrels and for different periods of time, with greater than 99% accuracy.
“We call this an artificial tongue because it acts similarly to a human tongue – like us, it can’t identify the individual chemicals which make coffee taste different to apple juice but it can easily tell the difference between these complex chemical mixtures,” Dr. Alasdair Clark, the study’s lead author, said in a statement.
And while this study focused on whiskey, Clark is confident that this tongue could be used for a variety of purposes. “[T]he artificial tongue could easily be used to ‘taste’ virtually any liquid…. In addition to its obvious potential for use in identifying counterfeit alcohols, it could be used in food safety testing, quality control, security – really any area where a portable, reusable method of tasting would be useful.”
Read the full study in Nanoscale.