Scientists have developed a sensor that has been shown to identify 14 common sweeteners, both natural and artificial, according to a study described at the American Chemical Society’s 238th national meeting in Washington. The sensor, which is about the size of a business card, may identify sweeteners used in foods and beverages.

"We take things that smell or taste and convert their chemical properties into a visual image," said Kenneth Suslick, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "This is the first practical ‘electronic tongue’ that you can simply dip into a sample and identify the source of sweetness based on its color."

The "lab-on-a-chip" sensor consists of a glass-like container with 16 to 36 printed dye spots, each having the diameter of a pencil lead. The chemicals in each spot react with sweet substances in a way that produces a color change. The colors vary with the type of sweetener in a product. Intensity varies with the amount of each sweetener.

In the future doctors and scientists may use modified versions of the sensor for a variety of other chemical-sensing applications, including monitoring blood glucose levels in people with diabetes and identifying toxic substances in the environment.

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