Laboratory for New Media 19th Exhibition
“Odors Filled the World”

Laboratory for New Media Permanent Exhibition periodically updates contents of exhibitions to introduce the various possibilities of expression provided by information science and technology.

Welcome to the world of your sense of smell. Our world is filled with various odors. All around us there is a wide world with a wealth of odors, but in this busy day and age, it is very difficult to turn our attention to what we smell.
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 sophisticated mechanism behind our sense of smell, you will sniff the world as never before.

Lesson 1: The mechanism for sensing diverse odors

Inside our noses, humans have as many as 400 types of odor sensors (olfactory receptors). When the “odorants” floating in the air engage with these sensors, we can sense an odor. This exhibit features two experiments. The first is an experiment that shows that the sensitivity of these odor sensors differs from person to person, and the second allows us to sense complex odors through combining 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.

Lesson 2: Odors stir the emotions

For one reason or another, there are odors you like, and those you find unpleasant. In fact, research has made it clear that odors directly affect the brain and emotions. Here, we introduce the relationship between “bad odors and stress,” and between “baby odors and parental love.”

  • [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.

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.

Term December 13(Wed), 2017 - May 21(Mon), 2018
  • 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