Stories tagged smell

Dec
19
2006

Yes, we do smell in stereo. So are you left-nostriled or right-nostriled?

According to the findings of a new study, humans (along with a lot of other mammals) compare the scents that come into their nose through each nostril to make more refined decisions as to what they’re smelling. And the research conducted on the study sounds like it would have been a lot of fun to participate in.

College students were blindfolded and asked to crawl through grassy fields, using their noses to find a chocolate-scented trail.

Their task was to follow a 30-foot-long path of twine that had been scented with chocolate. The students were blindfolded, gloved and geared up with knee and elbow pads so that they could not feel the twine as they sniffed their way for the chocolate course. They also had ear plugs to shut of that sense as well.

Before hitting the grass, they were shown a quick video of proper sniffing technique of putting their nose to the ground. Evidently most humans are adverse to poking their nose into the ground.

An amazing two-thirds of the participants were able to smell their way through the dog-legged course. But with one of their nostrils plugged, nobody was able to find their way to the end of the chocolate twine.

Armed with these findings, researchers are now figuring that our brain compares the information it gets from each nostril to decipher where and from what the smell is coming. That’s very similar to what our ears and eyes do in processing information about sound and sight.

But for a long time, it was considered that the nose worked as a single sense researcher since the nostrils are located so close together on a nose. Could there really be that much difference in the smells going in one nostril compared to the other?
The findings of the nostril research are published on the website of the journal Nature Neuroscience and will be expanded on in the January issue of that journal.

The chocolate in the grass experiment was just one of five tests done on the nostril theory. Another experiment tracked the paths that tiny bits of theatrical fog took as they were breathed in by study participants.

Armed with this new data, researchers will be fine-tuning their next experiments to get even more specific on how our noses actually work. They’ll be taking a look at questions like does our brain actually detect two separate aromas from our nostrils. Or does having two nostrils taking in a smell give us a stronger concentration of the smell to be able to process more detailed information about the smell.

Smells like some more fun experiments on the horizon. What kind of experiment would you design to figure out more about how our noses work?

Apr
25
2006


Tongue ESP: The tongue can be used to sense input from machines via a grid of electrodes placed on the tongue which is stimulated with electricity.


Using Tongue ESP?: She probably isn't but could be in the future.
Courtesy Creap

What extra sensory perceptions would would you like? Seeing behind your back? Smelling odorless gasses like carbon monoxide? How about seeing in the dark? Sensors already exist that can do these things. All that is needed is a way to input what they sense into our brains. The most common way to input information from external sensors is visually. We can use our eyes to see distant airplanes or weather clouds on a radar scope. We can read how much carbon monoxide is in the air we breath by looking at a meter.

Suppose we need to sense things without using our eyes. Most often when we cannot see, we use our fingers to get information. Blind people use a cane to feel thier way around. Sometimes they tap their cane and listen for echoes to sense a barrier.

Another way to sense data about our environment is with our tongue. Suppose a ten by ten grid of electrodes were placed on the tongue and small voltages were used to create various patterns of sensation on the tongue. Just like bumps on paper can create thousands of words for people trained to read braille, the hundred electrodes on the tongue can allow trained people to sense data from sonar, radar, toxin detectors, or any other data measurable by various sensors.

At the institute for Machine and Human Cognition (IFHMC) Anil Raj is principle investigator in research titled: Adaptive Human/Machine Multi-sensory Prostheses. They are working on TSAS: Tactile Situation Awareness System. The research is exploring how electrodes on the tongue or in a body suit can allow users to receive input from external devices. Such input is desirable when your hands and eyes are already too busy or when they cannot be used.