Digital synesthesia: Tricking your brain into experiencing smell as temperature in virtual reality

Synesthesia is the fascinating neurological phenomenon whereby stimulation of one sense involuntarily triggers another sensory pathway. A synesthete might taste sounds or hear colors. Now, computer scientist Jas Brooks and colleagues from the University of Chicago are creating a kind of digital synesthesia by using odors to trick your brain into experiencing different temperatures in virtual reality. For example, capsaicin, the chemical in hot peppers, triggers a warm feeling while eucalyptol elicits a cool sensation. Evan Ackerman explains in IEEE Spectrum:

The trigeminal nerve [in your nose] connects your brain to most of your face, and it carries a bunch of sensory information, including both smell and temperature. The actual temperature-sensing mechanism comes from transient receptor potential (TRP) ion channels, and while we can skip over exactly how these work, the important thing to understand is that some of these TRP channels can get triggered by either skin temperature or certain kinds of aerosolized chemicals. You’ve almost certainly experienced this for yourself: When you smell peppermint, it feels cold, because the menthol in the peppermint is triggering a receptor in your trigeminal nerve called TRPM8 that responds to both the menthol and temperatures under 25 °C. On the other end of things, capsaicin (which you can find in hot peppers) triggers the TRPV1 receptor, which also responds to temperatures above 42 °C. That’s the key: One receptor that can be triggered by temperature or a chemical, but sends the same temperature sensory message to your brain. The researchers describe this as “a perceptual duality,” and if you aerosolize one of these chemicals and puff it up your nose, you’ll feel a temperature change.[...]

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Post office evacuated and workers treated for durian exposure

Police and emergency services evacuated a post office in the Bavarian town of Schweinfurt after employees reported a horrible smell emanating from a suspect package. Turns out it was a small shipment of durian, the horrifically pungent fruit popular in southeast Asia. From CNN:

"A total of twelve postal workers who complained of nausea had to be taken care of on site," police in Schweinfurt said, adding that six were taken to the hospital as a precaution.

Six ambulances, five first-responder cars and two emergency vehicles attended the incident. Three different fire departments were also involved.

The fruit was eventually delivered to its intended recipient.

image: مانفی (CC BY-SA 4.0) Read the rest

Our olfactory heritage: researcher preserves scents before they're lost forever

Smell is perhaps more closely intertwined with memory than sight, sound, or any other of our senses. Indeed, scents are an incredibly important part of history and culture. That's why Cecilia Bembibre and her colleagues at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage are working to preserve certain smells for the ages. After all, smells are "the olfactory heritage of humanity," she says. ”From the BBC:

But how do you capture something as intangible as a historical scent? One method involves exposing a polymer fibre to the odour, so that the smell-causing chemical compounds in the air can stick to it. Then Bembibre analyses the sample in the laboratory, dissolving the compounds stuck to the fibre, separating them and identifying them. The resulting list of chemicals is effectively a recipe for the scent.

Another method separates and identifies the compounds directly from the gas sample – an approach commonly used in the perfume, food and beverages industry, as it allows volatile odour-active compounds to be identified. A third way is to use the nose itself, either by asking panels of people to describe certain smells, or by asking expert “noses”, who may be perfumers or scent designers.

“We characterise the smell from the human point of view,” adds Bembibre. “This is important because if we want to preserve it for the future, it depends on many factors. Not only the chemical composition but also our experience.”

Bembibre has chemically extracted the smells of old leather gloves, ancient books and mould Bembibre has chemically extracted the smells of old leather gloves, ancient books and mould, among other things.

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School bus evacuated due to overwhelming stench of Axe body spray

On Monday, Manatee County, Florida students were evacuated from a school bus after someone sprayed too much Axe body spray. WFTS reports that "according to school officials, the bus carrying Buffalo Creek Middle School students had to remove students off the bus because of the strong odor."

And from the Parrish Fire District's Facebook page:

Early this evening our District along with MCEMS responded to a reported hazardous materials incident on board a Manatee County School Bus. Crews arrived on scene to find fifteen students with mild respiratory irritation. All students were triaged and prioritized according to their initial complaint. It was a unified command decision to call out secondary bus to be dispatched to pick up the stranded students and remotely transport to the local High School for a limited access lot to provide security and accountability for parents to pick up students. Manatee Co. School Board reps along with the Sheriffs Office set up a coordinated pick up area.

At this time, the incident is being ruled a prank, as a deodorant / aerosol body spray was discharged on the bus. This is still a active on-going Investigaion in which bus cameras will be reviewed and further interviews conducted.

All 30 students on the bus were accounted for and treated and released with refusals to be be transported by EMS.

(Thanks to Florida bureau chief Charles Pescovitz!)

image: "Large collection of Axe products" by Dannycas (public domain) Read the rest

You can now enjoy a whiff of T. Rex's foul breath

Researchers at Chicago's Field Museum collaborated with fragrance chemists to recreate what is likely the foul odor of a T. Rex's breath. Now, museum visitors can push a button for an olfactory experience of the dinosaur age. The new sensory station is part of an exhibit centered around the most complete T. Rex skeleton ever discovered. From Atlas Obscura:

They quickly gave up on imitating T. rex poop. Most of the commercially available synthetic feces scents are imitations of human waste, and our generally omnivorous diets stray too far from SUE’s carnivory. Cat poop is slightly better, because they’re obligate carnivores, (exhibit developer Meredith) Whitfield says, but hyena droppings would be ideal, because that includes both chewed-up meat and ground bones, just like SUE’s deuces. Turns out synthetic hyena poop scent is hard to come by, so the team moved on. (But, Whitfield adds, “If you’re at the hyena enclosure at the zoo and smell their poop, that’s probably close to what T. rex poop smelled like.”)

Dino breath, on the other hand, was both tempting and feasible. “From anatomical studies of SUE’s teeth, we can say, ‘Well, you have the kind of anatomy that might suggest that you have some nasty raw meat decaying in your mouth,’” Whitfield says. “What did that smell like? The answer is: Bad.”

The team found a service that manufactures a range of prepackaged smells—mainly pleasant air fresheners for hotel lobbies and other benign places, but also stinky ones for police training exercises, so that officers can learn to detect stuff like meth labs, decomposing bodies, and other malodorous things.

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Bic perfume in packaging inspired by their lighters

In 1989, Bic, makers of pens, shaving razors, and, of course, lighters, launched Parfum Bic. I really like the packaging inspired by cigarette lighters! Maybe the original idea was that the scent would cover up the stale funk of cigarette smoke. Weird Universe found this bit from a Detroit Free Press article at the time:

Made entirely in France and packaged in little portable spritzers that look more than a bit like Bic lighters, Parfum Bic will retail for just $5 a quarter-ounce, one-tenth the price of a typical French perfume. Parfum Bic already is selling briskly in Europe, the company reports. Already, cocooned in decidedly downscale blister packs, the product is hitting the speed racks of American supermarkets, drug and variety stores. With this product, Bic hopes to create a whole new low-price perfume category by advancing the notion of perfume as a product that can be bought and used spontaneously.

"Bic Perfume" (Weird Universe)

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Purfume fad: smell like burning or decomposing vegetation

Long the province of manly mens' colognes and deodorants, the fashion for smokey, woodsy scents has come to the perfume aisle.

Log Cabin Perfumes, as I have taken to calling the growing category of scents that evoke a cold snap all year round, are fairly new to the market. A decade ago, only a few niche fragrances prominently featured notes like Scotch pine, birch tar, gunpowder, palo santo and wood smoke. In 2009, Serge Lutens released Fille en Aiguilles, a cult hit that smells like a Christmas tree farm, and slowly the hibernal trend began to trickle through the indie perfume world. Now, the demand for wearable wintry mixes has exploded.

All these fancy Eaus with their camphor notes and sage fundamentals, yet no mention of the Demeter Fragrance Library's Bonfire Cologne.

Photo: California National Guard Read the rest

Dentists can smell fear and it may impair their performance

New research suggests that dentists may unconsciously smell fear and that their patients' anxiety can hurt their performance. How did the scientists control for the fact that a patient's anxiety in the dental chair is pretty obvious? First, Valentina Parma and her colleagues at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy collected t-shirts worn by students who had sat for a difficult exam or a calm lecture.

From New Scientist:

The team then doused the T-shirts with a chemical that masks body odour, so that it wasn’t possible to consciously smell any body odour on them. When the T-shirts were presented to a different group of 24 dental students, they said they couldn’t detect any difference between those taken from the stressful or the relaxed situations.

Next, mannequins were dressed in the donated T-shirts, and the second group of students had to perform dental treatments on them. Each student was graded on their performance by examiners – and they performed significantly worse when treating mannequins wearing T-shirts from people who’d been stressed. Mistakes included being more likely to damage neighbouring teeth, for example.

Parma thinks the scent of anxiety could be triggering the same emotions in those who subconsciously smell it. “It’s quite fascinating,” says Pamela Dalton at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. “It helps us understand how we can communicate without language.”

"Smelling Anxiety Chemosignals Impairs Clinical Performance of Dental Students" (Chemical Senses via Weird Universe)

image: David Shankbone, CC Read the rest

Perfume to smell like a kitten

Demeter, the fragrance "library" that famously released a cologne with the smell of used paperback books, now offers a Kitten Fur scent. It's available as a cologne, body lotion, shower gel, and other toiletries. (Note: Wow, that's one tiny kitten next to the one ounce bottle in their product photo above.)

Cats. Love them or hate them. There is no in between. But everyone loves Kittens! Now after 15 years of effort, Demeter has captured the olfactory essence of the warmth and comfort of that purrfect spot, just behind a kitten's neck.

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Perfume maker perfects the smell of American paper currency

What does money smell like? Chemist and perfumier Marc vom Ende was commissioned by artist Mike Bouchet to create the well-known but hard-to-describe smell, and it turned out money smells like America itself: Read the rest

Candle that smells like a motorcycle engine

Flying Tiger Motorcycles offers this curious "Two Stroke Smoke Candle" that is made from two-stroke oil and "high-octane fragrance" to give your home that singular bike bouquet. It's $20 and comes in a metal can. Read the rest

This is the worst smell in the world

Liquid ASS is described as smelling like a fine combination of "butt crack, kind of a sewer smell with a hint of dead animal." It is arguably the worst smell in the world. High school prankster Allen Wittman invented it man years ago from ingredients in his chemistry set. Now it's used by the US military in war simulations to get medics used to the smell of a torn intestine with wasting spilling into the abdominal cavity. 99% Invisible tells the story of Liquid ASS and it's new application to help save lives.

You can also buy your own bottle for $10 on Amazon.

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The smell of books in a spray, lotion or candle

Smell of Books is an amusing selection of imaginary fragrances for bilibiophiles, with names such as "classic musty" and "eau you have cats."

"Have you been avoiding e-books because they just don’t smell right?," the site asks. "…all of that is changing thanks to Smell of Books™, a revolutionary new aerosol e-book enhancer."

If you're wanting the real thing, though, count yourself lucky. The Demeter Fragrance Library, a selection of novelty perfumes and colognes, sells a scent called Paperback in all sorts of different product variations.

There are also, allegedly, scented candles to help evoke the high of the smell of old paper.

Lignin is apparently the magic ingredient: The chemical composition of "Old Book Smell" Read the rest

Dog finds whale vomit

Ambergris in Morecambe, England. [BBC]

A man from Morecambe believes his dog has found a rare piece of whale vomit while walking on the beach. ... Mr Wilman said: "When I picked it up and smelled it I put it back down again and I thought 'urgh'.

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French stench reaches London

Reuters: "A cloud of harmless gas smelling of sweat and rotten eggs leaked out of a chemicals factory in northwest France and wafted across the English Channel as far as London on Tuesday." Read the rest

Pizza Hut perfume

Pizza Hut Canada produced a limited-edition perfume. Apparently, Eau de Pizza Hut has "“top notes of freshly baked, hand-tossed dough." I guess it beats smelling like pepperoni or anchovies. (TODAY, via NextDraft) Read the rest

Smells like shopping

Expect America's malls to soon become orange-scented. A new study by Washington State University researchers suggests that "simple scents" -- they tested orange -- can stimulate a bump in retail sales. This is compared to no smell or "complex scents" like an orange-basil-green tea blend used in this study. From WSU:

The researchers say the (simple) scent is more easily processed, freeing the customer’s mind to focus on shopping. But when that "bandwidth” is unavailable customers don’t perform cognitive tasks as effectively, says (Eric) Spangenberg, (dean of the College of Business)...

"WSU researchers tie simple scent to increased retail sales" Read the rest

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