Beware the early mornin’ kiss.
Yep, Jun “Eggy” Ye at JILA in Colorado has certainly taken this advice to heart. He’s gone and built himself a giant optical frequency comb laser capable zapping the bejesus out of any molecules found in human breath. When that happens the molecules absorb light producing a characteristic spectrum that allows their identification.
But the cool thing about the optical frequency comb technique is that it allows the simultaneus detection of thousands of molecules in real time. That makes it much better at identifyin’ stuff than either the electronic noses we been hearin about, which have a limited repertoire of stuff they can see, or mass spectroscopy which takes justabout forever to do its thing.
All kindsa things show up in human breath including markers for various types of cancer, such as ethane (which may be what these animals are spotting when they identify cancer victims). So being able to analyse breath quickly is a big deal.
But ain’t frequency comb lasers about the size of small factories? Won’t be easy fittin’ one of them into yer early morning bathroom routine
Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0708.3205: Human Breath Analysis via Cavity-enhanced Optical Frequency Comb Spectroscopy