What’s that smell?

We can’t see it but we know it’s there. . .

If humans understood the sensory world better, might this lead to an improved planet? Our senses for every species, are there to help us make decisions on our journey in life.

Customers pay for and expect good experiences. Smell impacts those sensory experiences and awareness can go a long way. Careful observations present hidden opportunities.


A dog’s sense of smell, on average, is 100 times better than a human. A bear has the strongest predicted at 2,100 times a human! Impressive, but what about our chemical pheromones released whilst we try to hide? 

Dinosaur’s would have outdone the bears if they were still here. Insects do pretty well too, a fly can smell rotting meat from a long way off.

“Your dog is wondering how you can not know there’s a cat over there, or that your friend was on this exact spot a few hours ago?”

David Eagleman describes umwelts in his Ted Talk, can we create new senses for humans?

Have humans reached their peak of superpowers? Perhaps not yet, we rely on technology which has both positive and negative sides. Connected yet disconnected at the same time.  

Cacosmia is a condition where someone can only sense bad smells. But what about the stuff that humans can’t smell? Dogs are renowned detective sidekicks to help when we need them most. 

Grass of course isn’t an animal, but nature gives off an infinite number of smells generally inviting or warning us. The fresh smell of cut grass for example is a distress signal from the grass trying to save itself. Do we like the smell of bleeding grass? 


Being in a confined space is like having an increased size nasal chamber, just like a dinosaur. Which is why we think we’re more sensitive to smell in this environment. As a result our sense of smell subconsciously goes on alert.

Who decided to paint their nails on a flight? The smell of hangovers or garlic on the train at rush hour. Good and bad smells are endless. Hence why the fragrance and hygiene industries make so much money.

What seemed harmless in one decade, as we’ve found out, is quite the opposite the following decade or three later. What are these particles doing to us as individuals and as a population? Polluting the planet is never a good thing. Learning from our senses can only help us solve issues and teach us to take better care of our collective home. 


To humans there are seven smells – putrid, musky, pungent, camphoraceous, floral, minty and ethereal. Smell is the stimulation of a receptor which is like a funny shaped cup, and if the right space fits into the cup, then we detect the smell. This is usually a combination of several of these receptors being stimulated to varying degrees. Giving the impression we can detect an infinite number of different smells.

Humans have five basic senses, taste, touch, smell, sound and sight. Vibration, balance and temperature play critical roles here too. Notice the difference in smell between raw and cooked food. By boiling or cooking, we actually change the compounds in the food, so what we are eating is something quite different, and not just because it’s hotter. A chemical reaction has taken place resulting in different compounds being formed, although some of the constituents might still remain the same, depending on how long it’s cooked for.

Everything is made up of protons, neutrons, electrons and subatomic particles, everything. When we add heat, molecules (a combination of atoms) start to vibrate faster causing the space between them to increase. The colder the substance the less the molecules vibrate, and at absolute zero, the coldest possible temperature -273c, vibration stops altogether.

Olfaction is a chemoreception that forms our sense of smell. Our receptors subconsciously send signals to our brain ‘checking out the vibe’. There’s a quantum physics lock and key mechanism going on. Molecules are different shapes and sizes, fitting into a receptor to generate the receptive sensation. In the weird world of the small, our senses have connected smells with memories. Virtually teleporting us back to that moment, sort of like déjà vu.

Biomimetics is innovation inspired by nature. The planet was here before humans evolved, and earth is likely to still be here when humans have gone. Taking a leaf out of nature’s book might be a sensible idea, then whatever it is we invent, it is likely to have a better chance of timeless authentic longevity. 

“Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”

Albert Einstein

emily@roadmusic.co | @thisroadmusic 2019 

#smell #sensory #experience #particlephysics #nature

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