MRS Bulletin

Technical Feature

Technical Feature

An Optoelectronic Nose:“Seeing” Smells by Means of Colorimetric Sensor Arrays

Kenneth S. Suslick


A new approach to general sensors for odors and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) using thin films of chemically responsive dyes as a colorimetric sensor array is described. This optoelectronic “nose,” by using an array of multiple dyes whose colors change based on the full range of intermolecular interactions, provides enormous discriminatory power among odorants in a simple device that can be easily digitally imaged. High sensitivities (ppb) have been demonstrated for the detection of biologically important analytes such as amines, carboxylic acids, and thiols. By the proper choice of dyes and substrate, the array can be made essentially nonresponsive to changes in humidity.


  • optical materials;
  • optical spectroscopy;
  • sensor technology;
  • thin films;
  • volatile organic compounds.

Kenneth S. Suslick is the Marvin Schmidt Professor of Chemistry and a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). He received his BS degree from the California Institute of Technology in 1974 and his PhD degree from Stanford in 1978 and came to the University of Illinois immediately thereafter.

The Suslick Research Group at UIUC is multidisciplinary, with research projects involving inorganic, organometallic, bio-organic, materials (both inorganic and biomaterials), surface, and physical chemistry. The group's two major research areas are the chemical effects of ultrasound and the bioinorganic and materials chemistry of metalloporphyrins.

Suslick's recent interest in electronic nose technology led to the founding of ChemSensing Inc. in 2002. He has published more than 250 papers, edited four books, and holds 16 patents. He is the recipient of the Materials Research Society Medal, the CS Nobel Laureate Signature Award for Graduate Education, the ACS Senior Cope Scholar Award, the Wolfgang Göpel Award of the 8th International Symposium on Olfaction & Electronic Noses, an NIH Research Career Development Award, a Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, and the Silver Medal of the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce. He is also a fellow of AAAS and the Acoustical Society of America.

Suslick can be reached by e-mail at