A Special Place for Blog Lovers with a Touch of Science!

Enjoy our special posts in the fields of Earth & Planetary Sciences (EPS Blog) and Social Sciences & Arts (SSA Blog)

A Special Place for Blog Lovers with a Touch of Science!

The surprisingly simple 'arithmetic' of smell

Credit: When ON neurons fire, a locust can smell an odor. OFF neurons fire once the smell goes away; Raman lab

Adding and subtracting certain neurons tells researchers whether a locust can smell an odor

Smell a cup of coffee.

Smell it inside or outside, summer or winter, in a coffee shop with a scone -- coffee smells like coffee.

Why don't other smells or different environmental factors get in the way of the experience of smelling individual odors? Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis turned to the locust to find out.

What they found was surprisingly simple, according to Barani Raman, a biomedical engineer, and colleagues. The results were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The U.S. National Science Foundation-funded scientists have been studying locusts for years, watching their brains and their behaviors related to smell in an attempt to engineer bomb-sniffing locusts. Along the way, they've made substantial gains in understanding the mechanisms of smell.

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Bottling the smell of happiness to help treat depression

20220106-100824384151467_69361ef639_o Scientists are studying the scents our bodies produce when we’re happy or afraid to see how these can influence other people’s emotional states. Image credit - Ken Douglas/Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientists are studying the scents our bodies produce when we're happy or afraid to see how these can influence other people's emotional states. Image credit - Ken Douglas/Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0  

What's the smell of happiness?

It may sound like something out of a fantasy movie, but scientists hope to be able to bottle the smell of happiness so it can be used to help people with phobias or depression.

Our bodies produce different scents when we feel happy or afraid. These so-called chemosignals – which are in fact odourless – are believed to trigger happiness or fear in others. It is one of the ways smell impacts people's social interactions.

'It's like an emotional contagion. If I feel fear, my body odour will be smelt by people around me and they may start to feel fear themselves, unconsciously,' said Enzo Pasquale Scilingo, a professor at the Department of Information Engineering at the University of Pisa, Italy.

Similarly, the smell of happiness can inspire a positive state in other people, says Prof. Scilingo.

'If we had a spray of happiness … If we can find some odour which can induce a happy state – or a general positive state – I think we can help many, many people,' Prof. Scilingo said.

He hopes scientists can produce one within a few years. This could be particularly important in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, with cases of depression rising especially among young people.

'I don't want to say having this spray will (cure) people, but I think it's a very beautiful contribution,' Prof. Scilingo said.

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‘Connection with the past’: AI to find and preserve Europe’s historical smells

Scent-enriched tours will be accessible to blind and visually impaired people in a way entirely visual exhibitions can never be. Image credit - Battlecreek Coffee Roasters / Unsplash

The psychological powers of smell

There's no sense quite like smell to trigger an emotional response. One whiff of a damp basement, a dusty blanket, a ripe strawberry, or a steaming bowl of pasta can instantly evoke feelings and memories that have their roots in the distant past. Yet when it comes to learning about bygone times, we barely give a thought to the vapours that once prevailed – galleries and museums are the domain of artworks that appeal to our sense of sight, rarely reminding us of how things smelled – fragrant or foul – when our forebears walked the earth.

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