Monday, February 27, 2012

Beware of the Dogs

A good dog is a natural super soldier: strong yet acrobatic, fierce yet obedient. It can leap higher than most men and run twice as fast. Its eyes are equipped for night vision, its ears for supersonic hearing, its mouth for subduing the most fractious prey. But its true glory is its nose. In the nineteen-seventies, researchers found that dogs could detect even a few particles per million of a substance; in the nineties, more subtle instruments lowered the threshold to particles per billion; the most recent tests have brought it down to particles per trillion. “It’s a little disheartening, really,” said Paul Waggoner, a behavioral scientist at the Canine Detection Research Institute, at Auburn University. “I spent a good six years of my life chasing this idea, only to find that it was all about the limitations of my equipment.” Just as astonishing, to Waggoner, is a dog’s acuity—the way it can isolate and identify compounds within a scent, like the spices in a soup. more

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