The new sensor system can discriminate between different brands, ages, and tastes of whiskey, specifically, but could eventually be more broadly applicable. The ‘artificial tongue’ can be used to determine whether a glass of whiskey is a counterfeit.
People often worry that they will lose their job to a robot, as they are often cheaper, more efficient alternatives to human labor, but now people might also worry about losing their friends to a highly cultured robot with a refined palate. Actually, it’s not a robot, but researchers have published a research paper in Chem for a hypothesis-free sensor array capable of distinguishing between batches of whiskey by age and brand, as well as identify other qualities such as malt status and country of origin; so it is definitely cultured.
In fact, the research paper claims that “Our tongues do not need any sample preparation and are equal or superior to state-of-the-art mass spectrometric methods with respect to speed, resolution, and efficiency of discrimination.” According to the Phys.org article regarding this research, mass spectrometry “...break[s] down a mixture into the individual chemicals that make it up,” but the devised ‘artificial tongue’ system responds to the mixture (i.e. whiskey) in its entirety. The signature pattern yielded for each whiskey by the ‘artificial tongue’ is similar to the flavor profiles that the human tongue experiences in tasting things.
According to Engadget, one of the researchers, Uwe Bunz of Heidelberg University, said, “Our human tongue consists of 6 or 7 different receptors -- sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami, and hotness -- and they're able to identify food by differential reactions of those elements.” Similarly, the ‘artificial tongue’ can associate particular patterns with each whiskey based on the various elements of the system. The paper describes the system as involving three sensor elements composed of 22 different fluorescent dyes called “PAEs” (nine positively charged, four neutral, and nine negatively charged). A particular sample of whiskey was added to each of the various dyes, and using a device called a plate reader, the researchers were able to establish identifiable signatures for 33 different whiskies according to country of origin (Ireland, U.S.A., or Scotland), blend status (blend or single malt), taste (rich or light), brand, and age. Bunz said, “We can use this to detect fake [whiskey],” and the paper he contributed to asserts that this system can be applied to discriminate counterfeit consumer goods such as perfumes and alcoholic beverages, as well as prescription drugs. If this technology can be extended and applied outside the niche of whiskey, and even moreso, outside of alcoholic beverages and into the pharmaceutical market as the research paper proposes, it could have a positive economic impact on the medical industry. If not, it appears that it could still provide ample benefit to the alcoholic beverage industry.
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