Scientists at the University of Glasgow have created what they call an artificial tongue that is meant to help cut down on the trade of counterfeit alcohol. The artificial tongue is specifically designed to taste the subtle differences between types of whiskey. The design of the device exploits the optical properties of gold and aluminum to test the whiskey.
The artificial tongue uses sub-microscopic slices of aluminum and gold arranged in a checkerboard pattern to act as the tastebuds. The team poured samples of whiskey over the tastebuds, which are about 500,000 times smaller than human tastebuds, and measured how they absorbed light while submerged in the alcohol.
Statistical analysis of the subtle differences in how the metals in the artificial tongue absorb light, called plasmonic resonance, allows the team to identify different types of whiskey. The team sampled whiskeys from Glenfiddich, Glen Marnoch and Laphroaig with the artificial tongue. It was able to taste the difference between drinks with 99% accuracy.
The artificial tongue was able to pick up on the subtle distinctions between the same whiskey aged in different barrels and to tell the difference between the same whiskey that was aged for 12, 15, and 18 years. While the artificial tongue works for detecting counterfeit alcohol, it has other potential uses.
It could also be used in food safety testing, quality control, security, and any area where a portable and reusable method of tasting would be useful. The research was conducted by engineers and chemists from the University of Glasgow and Strathclyde. The team was financially supported by Leverhulme Trust, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.