Laboratory for New Media's 19th exhibition - "Odors Filled the World!" opens on December 13 (Wed), 2017

This exhibition draws on the results of recent research, and introduces the profound world of our sense of smell from two perspectives, firstly looking at how our noses capture "odorants", and secondly how our brains sense odors, and how they influence our emotions.

In the exhibition, you can experience the wonders of your sense of smell while actually sniffing a variety of odors. You'll be introduced to the mechanisms through which our noses capture odors, and how they influence our emotions and brains. By knowing the depth of the mechanisms of our sense of smell, you "can't help but smell it" with a different sense than you did before.

Overview of Exhibition

This exhibition is made up of five zones, where you can "experience scents".

A cartoon avatar of the exhibitor Prof. Kazushige Touhara (Tokyo University) will guide visitors through the profound world of odors presented on each of the panel displays.
* You can directly smell some of the presented odors at displays signed "Odor Experience"

1. Into the world of odors

・[Odor Experience] Chemical substances are behind odors
Here, you can deliberately sniff the familiar odors of old books, pansies, and soil. By sniffing them carefully, you may discover the very odors everyday items give.

From each of these items, chemical substances (odorants) that form the basis of odors are emitted. For example, the vanilla odorant, vanillin, and the odorant of vinegar, acetic acid, are found in the odor of an old book.

We introduce the idea that odors are formed of combinations of a variety of odorants, along with images of the structural formula of these chemical substances.

2. [Lesson 1] The mechanism for sensing diverse odors

Inside human nose, there are around 400 types of odor sensors called "olfactory receptors." When odorants interact with these sensors, we can sense an odor. In this display, we introduce two very interesting experiments relating to the mechanism of these odor sensors.

・[Odor Experience] Do you smell it? Don't you smell it?
We have found that the odor sensors that react to the odorant found in violets and pansies, "β-ionone," are shaped differently from person to person. Due to differences in the accessibility of the combinations, the strength of the odor you smell also differs from person to person.

・[Odor Experience] Odors are "combinations"
If you combine the three odors of cinnamon, lemon, and lime, you can reproduce the odor of cola drinks. Through various odorants interacting with each odor sensor, an odor undergoes a complex change.

3. [Lesson 2] Odors stir the emotions

In recent years, we have found that the odors we do manage to smell directly affect the brain and emotions. In this display, we introduce two results from Professor Touhara's research group.

・[Odor Experience] Let's try sniffing bad odors!... Gently.
An odorant called isovaleric acid is found in the bad odors of sweat and socks. If you sniff this odorant, called α-amylase, a substance that indicates stress appears in your saliva. However, we have found that if you add the odorant vanillin (present in vanilla) to isovaleric acid, the result is a pleasant scent similar to that of chocolate, and the level of stress is reduced.

・ Odors and love
The odor released by baby mice plays an important role in the way mice are reared, such as the way the mother mouse carries her babies relying on their odor. Humans are not necessarily the same, but in a survey of parents of pre-school children, Professor Touhara's research group found that many people love the odor from their baby's head.

4. Give your nose a rest

This corner lets you give your nose a rest after the two lessons on odors. You can reset your nose by sniffing the scent of your wrist. In addition, here we introduce one technique for expressing odors in words, an "aroma wheel." Similar odors are written next to each other on this circular chart, and you can look at this list of odors converted into words, and get a real sense of the presence of diverse odors. For example, on the wine aroma wheel that Professor Touhara was involved in creating, there are as many as 120 categories, containing such familiar words as "lemons" and "roses", but including also such words as "boiled azuki beans" and "medicine chest". In this corner, we also introduce the odors of sake (rice wine), and soy sauce.

5. [Lesson 3] Speak of an odor

[Odor Experience] Try expressing odors in words
You can enjoy odors even more by being able to express them in words. Try sniffing the odor and putting it into words, remembering what you have learned in the lessons so far. *The odor experience in [Lesson 3] doubles as a survey for Professor Touhara's research group, and will contribute to the creation of their next research theme.

About the Laboratory for New Media

Miraikan - The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation permanent exhibition space, the "Laboratory for New Media" periodically updates the contents of its exhibitions to introduce the various possibilities of expression provided by information science and technology. It is a space that presents a new worldview.

About the exhibitor

Kazushige TOUHARA
Professor, Department of Applied Biological Chemistry, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, The University of Tokyo, and the research director of the JST ERATO Touhara Chemosensory Signal Project


Title: Laboratory for New Media, 19th Exhibition "Odors Filled the World"
Period: December 13, 2017 - May 21, 2018
Opening Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Last entry: 30 minutes before the closing time)
Venue: Permanent Exhibition Zone, 3F, Miraikan - The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation
Organizers: Miraikan, Japan Science and Technology Agency ERATO Touhara Chemosensory Signal Project
Exhibitor: Kazushige TOUHARA, Professor, Department of Applied Biological Chemistry, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, The University of Tokyo. JST ERATO Touhara Chemosensory Signal Project