Alcohol counterfeit is an increasingly rampant problem for distillation and beverage industries.  Last year, a team of researchers from the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, or SUERC, have confirmed that nearly one-third of supposedly rare bottles of whisky are fakes.  This impacts the EU economy negatively by about three billion euros per year.

A research team from the University of Glasgow has recently developed an artificial tongue to detect even very subtle differences between different containers of whisky, with the objective of decreasing the amount of counterfeit alcohol and its trade.

In an issue of Nanoscale, the official journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the researchers described their invention, which uses a checkerboard type arrangement of gold and aluminum that look like tiny taste buds.  Dr. Alasdair Clark, the lead author of the study, said that even if they were not the first ones to make an artificial tongue, they were the first ones to make it using two different types of nanoscale metals.  They believe that this is the key to providing more information about a sample, and at a faster and more accurate manner, as the bimetallic device is able to produce two distinct resonance peaks for each sensing region.

Most of existing electronic sensors today have been inspired by biological counterparts.  For example, photodetectors are inspired by the sense of sight; pressure and temperature sensors are inspired by the sense of touch; and microphones are inspired by the sense of hearing.  The researchers point out that no device yet has been based on two of the human senses-the senses of smell and taste.  Now, similar to existing sensors, their artificial tongue is inspired by a biological counterpart-it mimics the biological sense of taste. 

They used the principle of absorption of light to identify subtle variations while the taste buds were submerged under different liquids.  After this, they were able to identify the different types of whiskies.  The team used this technique to sample a selection of whiskies from Glenfiddich, Glen Marnoch, and Laphroaig.  Their artificial tongue was able to taste the differences between the drinks with an accuracy of at least 99 percent.  It was also able to identify even the small differences between whiskies aged in different containers and how long they have been aged, even if they are of the same brand.

Clark and his team focused on whisky in their research but they also reported that the technology may be used in food safety testing and quality assurance for different liquids as well.  They anticipate its wide range of use from river water characterization to poison or medicine identification.