Scientists have developed an ‘e-tongue‘ – an electronic tool for analysing perfumes and helping decide how they should be classified. Could it revolutionise the fragrance world? Could a robot replace a ‘nose’…?
‘The identification of more than three perfumes is difficult,’ a report at sciencedirect.com begins. And as anyone who’s stood at a perfume counter, trying to weigh up the differences between an armful of scents can attest, they’re not overstating the matter.
Scientists have been trying to find a way to introduce electronic devices into the world of fragrance manufacturing for some time – the majority of large fragrance houses have used computer systems to correctly weigh and mix fragrant ingredients according to a perfumer’s formula, for years; but still a human nose is preferred to gauge the nunaces of the final fragrant result. Because, as the report continues, ‘…no analytical tool can completely replace the human olfactory system for fragrance classification.’
Last year, the annual IFRA Fragrance Forum had the theme of Artificial Intelligence in fragrance, and we reportedon a talk by Valérie Drobac, Digital Innovation Manager from Givaudan (one of the world’s largest fragrance creation houses), who talked about their latest intuitive and interactive system, ‘Carto’ – a new system that reinvents the way perfumers create fragrance. Drobac explained that ‘Carto is an AI-powered tool that brings science and technology together, to the benefit of perfumers who create Givaudan’s fragrances. The new system is designed to intelligently use Givaudan’s unique ingredients ‘Odour Value Map’ to maximise the olfactive performance in the final fragrance.’ Using the recent Etat Libre d’Orange fragrance She Was An Anomaly as an example, she explained how perfumer Daniela Andrier had been suggested to initial formulas to use, which she then worked on, evaluated and perfected.
This ‘e-tongue’ is not about the creation of fragrances, however, but the efficient analysis of a perfume, because, ‘For the perfume sector, the possibility of applying fast, cost-effective and green analytical devices for perfume analysis would represent a huge economic revenue.’
Which is all well and good, but one thing we might raise an eyebrow at is the device’s being tested to ‘…successfully discriminate men from women perfumes.’ In an age when so many fragrances are seemingly being marketed as ‘gender free’ – a phenomenon that has long transcended the niche trend that began this move (and in fact represents a return to how fragrances always used to be, with no marked difference in the scents men and women wore for centuries) – we might wonder why this is a concern. However, this ‘e-tongue’ has also been used ‘to identify the perfume aroma family,’ and for ‘assessing the perfume storage time-period.’
The future uses of such a classification device are surely far wider than we can imagine at the moment. But one thing we know for sure: perfume lovers won’t be replacing our noses with computers any time soon…
We’re always thrilled to attend the annual IFRA Fragrance Forum – a symposium of scent that delves deeper into current scientific research, bringing together experts from around the world who may never usually meet, but who all share the sense of smell as a common theme of their research. This year, the topic was Scent and Artificial Intelligence – how new technologies are changing the face of of the fragrance industry.
Lisa Hipgrave, Director of IFRA-UK, commented that, ‘We live in a fast-paced world and great strides are being made in new technologies that will affect us in all walks of life. The fragrance industry is no exception to this, which is why we’ve chosen to focus on the relationship between scent and artificial intelligence as this year’s Fragrance Forum theme.’
Spending all day at The Wellcome Collection in London, we listened in awe as the various experts gave back-to-back talks explaining their various areas of research and expertise, and the implications these could have for the future of the fragrance industry.
Starting the day was Dr Alex Wiltschko, Senior Research Scientist from Google Brain – a deep learning artificial intelligence research team at Google. He gained his PhD from Harvard Medical School, where he studied Olfactory Neuroscience, and now leads an olfaction-focused machine learning team at Google. He gave a great explanation of AI and ‘machine learning’, discussing how they can potentially impact fragrance chemistry, by predicting how certain complex molecules will smell (ways to make a rose smell even rosier, for example) by suggesting initial tweaks to formulas, which the perfumer can then perfect.
Professor Thomas Nowotny, Professor of Informatics and Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange from the University of Sussex, then explored what we can learn from the olfactory system of insects. Discussing the progress that’s being made in understanding how we smell (something that still hasn’t, incredibly, been proved), he posited the theory that we can detect odour sources in the same way we can hear the ‘chatter’ at a cocktail party, but naturally block out background noise to hone in on the person we’re having a conversation with. So vision and hearing have a lot more in common with smell that previously assumed.
Dr Josh Silverman, CEO of Aromyx, talked about the relationship between biotechnology and AI – in particular how new technologies are ‘solving sensory problems’. He explained how our noses have evolved to to detect vital information about whether a substance is pleasant, toxic, or anything in between, and that we actually smell in ‘something like 10-D’ – far more complex than sight or hearing levels! – and that although 70% of olfactory receptors are shared, a whopping 30% are completely unique to each person – so that’s why some of us adore certain scents (and tastes) and others find them awful!
Dr Dmitrijs Dmitrenko, from the Sussex Computer Human (SCHI) Laboratory at the University of Sussex expored scent and self-driving cars, and if it can make them safer, saying that ‘scent diffusers are becoming increasingly popular in modern cars, but their current function does not go beyond the sensory enjoyment.’ His study successfully proved drivers were far more responsive (and drove more safely) when certain smells were briefly puffed into the car to alert potential dangers. Lavender was puffed to tell drivers to slow down, peppermint to warn of being too close and lemon to warn the car was veering out of a lane.
Finally, Valérie Drobac, Digital Innovation Manager from Givaudan (one of the world’s largest fragrance creation houses), talked about their latest intuitive and interactive system, ‘Carto’ – a new system that reinvents the way perfumers create fragrance. Launched in April of this year, ‘Carto is an AI-powered tool that brings science and technology together, to the benefit of perfumers who create Givaudan’s fragrances. The new system is designed to intelligently use Givaudan’s unique ingredients ‘Odour Value Map’ to maximise the olfactive performance in the final fragrance.’ Using the recent Etat Libre d’Orange fragrance She Was An Anomaly as an example, she explained how perfumer Daniela Andrier had been suggested to initial formulas to use, which she then worked on, evaluated and perfected.
So should we be afraid that robots are going to take over from perfumers? Short answer: no.
Wiltschko commented that he ‘couldn’t see how a fragrance could be made without a perfumer’ – because at every stage of these AI innovations, a human is required to design, make and teach them to even perform basic tasks. Where these future technologies will help is in preventing wasted energy – data centres currently consume 3% of all the world’s energy, and that will only increase if systems aren’t put in place to maximise efficency and promote eco-friendly, sustainable ways of working. The AI will be used behind the scenes to free up the perfumers to be even more creative.
And what’s more, as Drobac reminded us – ‘perfumers have already used machines in their daily creative work, for many years…’ to mix initial formulas, for reasons of exact precision. Several of the speakers used the analogy of photography – think about how, when cameras were first invented, people declared this to be the death of Art. Or how, when sound was first introduced to films, or the advent of television, people dismissed them as a petty irrelevance.
The most excting thing we took away from the day of talks was the fact that our sense of smell, and fragrance itself, is finally being taken seriously by the scientific world. And as the Communications Director of IFRA, David O’Leary, said in closing the day: ‘AI is the second Industrial Revolution…’ so we need to take it very seriously.
We’ve long known our sense of smell is associated with well-being – from eras we strewed sweet-smelling herbs and flowers to mask foul odours (back when we assumed bad smells spread disease), to now using scented candles and personal fragrances to enhance how we feel. But something the IFRA Fragrance Forum always does so well is delve deeper into current scientific research, bringing together experts from around the world who may never usually meet, but who all share the sense of smell as a common theme of their reserach.
We’re always thrilled to attend the IFRA Fragrance Forum, and last week once again had our minds’ blown by the fascinating lectures we spent all day listening to, this time at the Wellcome Institute, and fittingly for World Mental Health Day, each speaker centered on the importance of smell not just on our emotional responses, but how it might be used to detect, research and even treat many neurodegenerative diseases.
We cannot possibly recount all of their research and statistics here, but urge you to seek out the speakers and read more about what they’re doing. Meanwhile, here’s a mere snapshot of the smell-studies that made our jaws drop to the floor…
The Woman Who Can Smell Parkinson’s Disease
Dr. Tilo KunathTilo Kunath from Edinburgh University talked about the extensive research he’s undertaken into the smell of Parkinson’s disease having met Joy Milne – an incredible woman who was able to detect the difference in her husband’s odour before he was diagnosed. We now know, as she’s been tested, that Joy is a ‘super smeller’ – someone born with a superior sense of smell, comparable to trained sniffer dogs.
Joy spoke so movingly about her journey of discovery, from being dismissed as a ‘a bit of a weirdo’ to finally convincing doctors to take her seriously. Joy had always loved her husband’s natural skin smell, she explained, and one day she realised he smelled completely different: ‘Odd. Sour-smelling… just not his smell.’ It was only when she and her husband (who’d then been diagnosed with PD) attended a conference for Parkinson’s sufferers, she was hit by a wall of that same smell when she first entered the room. Turning to her husband, she remarked ‘Les, they all smell like you…’ And it was at this conference she met Dr Kunath – which then led to his research. We also heard from Professor Perdita Barran from Manchester University whose mass spectrometry unit was an important part of the research.
Alzheimer’s and Smell Dysfunction
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia – something many of us will experience in family members or deal with ourselves in our ageing population. Olfactory dysfunction (mixing up smells) in general and impaired odour identification in particular, have been reported in AD and, importantly, are found to occur at early stages of the disease – so can act as warning signs. Dr Latha Velayudhan, a Senior Clinical Lecturer and Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist working at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscienecs (IoPPN), Kings College London demonstrated how she tests for smell identification dysfunction in people with AD compared to people without and the pattern of smell identification deficits (common smells affected) in individuals with AD.
Professor Keith Wesnes is the Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Exeter Medical School, and alsoruns Wesnes Cognition Ltd, a consultancy on the conduct and evaluation of cognitive testing, which provides its proprietary online cognitive test system, CogTrack to clinical trials worldwide. His talk explored the link between olfaction and cognitive function and how large-scale online studies offer highly efficient and cost-effective platforms for scientifically assessing the short and longer term cognitive and mood benefits of fragrances and essential oils in targeted populations.
As part of the same session, Dr Mark Moss, Head of Department of Psychology, Northumbria University then discussed why he thinks certain smells are ‘hard wired’ into our brain and how that then affects our well-being. Dr Moss’ research revolves around our ability to recognise and distinguish between many different plant aromas, and their practical use for the promotion of health and wellbeing – including stimulation and relaxation. Fascinatingly, his research suggests that ylang ylang slows down our reflexes and may help to relex us, while certain breeds of sage aid alertness and recollection. His study shows the species Sage Officinalis, in particular, was most useful for aiding memory function.
There’s a growing use of ambient scent used in everyday experiences – from scenting public spaces to more dramatic uses in art exhibitions and stage performances. Pollution Pods is a touring installation which, in a series of geodesic domes, accurately recreates the terrible air quality of five major cities – through scent, temperature, ozone and humidity, and cleverly using fragrance to make utterly visceral the effects on our physical and mental health of pollution. The artist behind Pollution Pods, Michael Pinsky, and fragrance specialist Lizzie Ostrom, gave us a into the look (and smell!) of the installation, which caused much coughing, though some seemed very fond of the re-created polluted smells – something Lizzie explained was comforting to many visitors, as they’d grown up surrounded by these smells.
Sharing thoughts on where ambient scent and fragrance in public spaces might be heading next, and what the industry could be doing to take advantage of growing interest from brands and institutions, this, along with the weight of fascinating medical research and hopefully leading to clinical advances and medical help available in the future, really left us with much to ponder the pongs of.
All the experts agreed that, past the age of 65, it has been shown that nicotine patches (!) may significantly slow down some symptoms of Alzheimer’s and, in the case of Parkinson’s it seems, prevent it all together. They also suggested the imbibing of wine to aid longterm memory function (however counter-intuitive that may seem), and so perhaps our senior years may at least be spent indulging in vices, as well as lavishing ourselves with fragrance.
Most of all, the day highlighted once again how the sense of smell is so vital – there’s still so much we don’t yet know about it – truly, as Helen Keller once desribed our ability to smell, it’s ‘the fallen angel of the senses…’
Every year, IFRA – the trade association promoting the safe creation, development and enjoyment of fragrance) organise a Fragrance Forum – an utterly fascinating coming together of highly engaging speakers with experts from just about every sector you can imagine – all of whom are linked by their expertise and interest in the sense of smell. We were thrilled to be invited along for their seventh Forum as part of the fragrance press, and so found ourselves learning the power of Medical Detection Dogs, how to make a Mosquito Invisibility Cape, how to smell-map a city, how the Pre-Raphaelites responded to the stench of the river Thames (by linking it to paintings of fallen women, it turns out), the difference between Synaesthesia (one of my favourite subjects ever) and cross-modal correspondences, and font-sniffing (as in: can you smell/taste/hear typefaces? Short story: yes.)
To give you a taste of the breadth and diversity of the subjects covered, here’s a little more about the speakers and the topics they spoke about so passionately. In a Fragrance Forum for which the theme was Scents & Sensibility (a nod to this year marking the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death), we left with a renewed excitement of the sense that some neglect, but which many of us have built our careers and, indeed, our lives around… Dr Claire Guest – Sniffing it out CEO Medical Detection Dogs
Claire has been involved in the training of dogs for tasks involving scent for over twenty years. Since 2002 she has been professionally involved in training dogs in the detection of human disease through scent. She is now the CEO of Medical Detection Dogs (MDD) the leading charity training dogs, pioneering both medical assistance and disease detection, and is not only a pioneer of the training but committed to carrying out empirical research to improve operations and to inform future medical technologies. Professor James Logan – How to make a mosquito invisibility cloak London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
James has more than 10 years of experience in the laboratory and field – in the UK and overseas – of controlling insects of medical and veterinary importance. He has an award-winning PhD investigating why some people are bitten more than others by mosquitoes and midges. Mosquito-borne diseases affect more than half the world’s population, diseases transmitted by insects account for more than 17% of all infectious diseases, causing more than one million deaths. By understanding more about mosquitoes and their incredible sense of smell, we can develop better ways to control one of the world’s most formidable forces. One day, we may even be able to make ourselves completely invisible. Key theme: Scent and our surroundings Kate McLean – Programme Director for Graphic Design at Canterbury Christ Church University Dr Daniele Quercia – Bell Labs, Cambridge On the Impossibility of Mapping the Smellscape
Kate McLean is a British artist and designer and mapper of urban smellscapes – the term used to describe the odour landscape around us. She runs smellscape mapping workshops, leads smellwalks around the world and has co-edited a book, Designing with Smell: Practices, Techniques and Challenges (2017). Her talk looked at how interative design research can be used to investigate how the general public perceives and reacts to smells in public spaces.
Daniele Quercia leads the Social Dynamics group at Bell Labs in Cambridge. He has been named one of Fortune magazine’s 2014 Data All-Stars, and spoke about “happy maps” at TED. His research has been focusing in the area of urban informatics, focussing on the fact that, although humans are able to potentially discriminate thousands of different odours, smell is simply hard to measure. SmellyMaps have recently proposed a new way of capturing the entire urban smellscape from social media data (i.e., tags on Flickr pictures or tweets). The SmellyMaps project aims at disrupting the mainly negative view of city odours and being able to celebrate the complex smells of our cities. Dr Christina Bradstreet – Art, Smell and Sanitation The National Gallery
Christina is Courses and Events Programmer at the National Gallery and she has taught 19th-century painting at Birkbeck College as well as guest lectures at Sotheby’s Institute, Royal Holloway College and the Courtauld Institute. So, how did the Pre-Raphaelites respond to the stench of the River Thames, in the summer of 1858? This talk explored how the urban stink influenced artists in Britain and beyond in the nineteenth-century. Key theme: Scent and psychology Dr Clare Jonas – Synaesthesia – a blending of the senses University of East London
Synaesthesia is a fascinating condition in which the senses become entangled so that music might appear to have shapes, or smells have colours. In this talk Clare explored what synaesthesia is and how it relates to mechanisms of multisensory perception in the general population. She also explored visual aspects of art, advertising and packaging and how psychological research links them to taste and smell. Sarah Hyndman – Wake up and smell the fonts! Founder and Director, Type Tasting
Type Tasting founder Sarah Hyndman is a graphic designer, author and public speaker, known for her interest in the psychology of type. Her main area of expertise is multi sensory typography, she works on collaborative research studies with the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford. In her talk Sarah explored how visual language influences all of our senses as it tells the story of a product. The visual translation of luxury, gender or smell creates anticipation, informs our choices and enhances our experiences.
Innovative new research into crossmodal perception is now mapping the typography of smell – understanding this enables us to use visual language to accentuate nuances and nudge behaviour… just one of the many subjects we left wanting to explore in more depth, so stay tuned for our further investigations!
Written by Suzy Nightingale
Every year, IFRA[the International Fragrance Association] hold a Fragrance Forum, bringing together scientists, perfumers, press and all industry professionals who share an interest in the subject of scent. This year’s forum took the theme of ‘Do You Smell Well?’ with a full day of talks covering the ancient Egyptian’s use of incense and perfume in magical rites through to how babies learn to smell and even a wine-sniffing session.
Discussing therapeutic aspects of fragrance and perfume materials, a number of eminent speakers addressed these topics with gusto and as always, it was fascinating to mix with such a variety of professionals who make the study of how – and why – we smell, their life’s work.
In the distinguished setting of The Royal Society, we began the day with an historical look at spices, balsams and the incense of temples: the fragrances of ancient Egypt – the Egyptologist and raconteur John J. Johnston from University College London perhaps being familiar to some of you who have seen him speak at Egyptian-themed events with Odette Toilette. Among any number of fascinating tales, we learned how incense was made to specific recipes, with each ingredient serving a magical purpose as an offering to the gods. Stunning perfume recipticals survive, mostly of mystical beasts sticking out their tongues – ‘To wear perfume is as though to be licked by these magical animals.’
Dr Benoist Schaal from the Centre des Sciences du Goût, Djijon, addressed the audience with a talk entitled ‘Born to smell and smook‘ – “smook” being the way newborn babies smell and look while suckling at their mother’s breast, it turns out. A fascinating series of scientific studies were recounted, in which Benoist and his team have researched the way we are born to react to smell – that some odours do not need to be lerned and mammalian females have evolved the specific ability to highlight their breasts to their offspring by secreting a smell map around the nipples, to guide the babies directly there.
The next talk took a deeper philosophical topic of ‘the role of smell in consciousness‘ – Professor Barry C. Smith, Director of the Institute of Philosophy – Centre for the Study of Senses, argued that we don’t merely have the five (or six) senses usually attributed to humans – we could in fact have over twenty senses, each of them highly connected and overlapping with the rest. Smith went on to remind us that, historically, we have neglected our sense of smell as being the least important sense, but in fact it adds to and shapes almost every aspect of our lives! We were thrilled to hear this talk, most especially as it confirms everything we teach in our How to Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshops, and have had such great feedback from those who have taken part. Dr Mark D. Evans of De Montfort University, Leicester was making sense of frankincense – beginning with a truly “lightbulb” moment where he explained how this historically important perfume ingredient got its name: French incense – franc encens. Of course it makes perfect sense when it’s pointed out, but had never occured to us, previously! Herodotus wrote of frankincense in th 5th century BC, Pliny wrote how the Phoenix feasted on it, and in Roman Britian alone, up to 50 burial sites of wealthy citizens have been found to contain traces of frankincense, thought to be used in funeral rites. Indeed, frankincense has always primarily had a religious use, but we were astounded to learn the postive research results currently being investigated on its incredible anti-inflammatory properties, and possible future use in many medical treatments, including some cancers.
An insightful look at the state of the nation: shoppers and fragranced products followed, with Vitaliy Zhyhun from market research specialists Nielsen UKleading us through a series of charts, facts and figures that revealed the UK shopper is perhaps the most “disloyal” of all, shopping online and looking around for the best deals. Most interesting to us was their research that showed a huge swing toward smaller, independent or local shops – smaller brands also driving growth and far outperforming their larger competitors, and with online sales set to grow even more in the next couple of years.
Mr Carl Philpott, Honorary Consultant ENT surgeon & Rhinologist and Director of The Smell & Taste Clinic at James Paget Hospital led a moving talk on living without smell, looking at the research they’ve done on those people who have lost their ability to smell, and the many psychological implications this has on their lives. Reinforcing how vital our sense of smell is and how little resepct we pay it until it’s lost; Philpott showed the shocking numbers of those patients who developed severe depression and feelings of alienation – and some of the ways they are trying to resolve or help them. In fact, he’s now working with Duncan Boak of Fifth Sense – a charity we have supported and highlighted, for those affected by taste and smell disorders.
Finally, the always-welcome sound of corks popping heralded the return of Professor Barry C. Smith to the stage, guiding us through an olfactory exploration of wine – with our noses. Discussing the varying ways in which we perceive tastes (and mix them up with our other senses all the time – saying things smell “sweet” or “cold”, for example) and also relate smells and tastes to varying speeds… ‘Everyone in the world thinks lemons are “fast” and bananas are “slow”!’ chuckled the professor, as he also got the entire audience to identify the temperature of water, just by listening to a recording of it being poured. And the subtle but distinct difference between club soda, Champagne and prosecco being poured.
Who knew we had such hidden powers?
As ever, the IFRA Fragrance Forum left us with brains bursting from all the captivating information we’d taken in throughout the day, and noses a-twitch with a plethora of ideas of what to write about for future issues of The Scented Lettermagazine…
Written by Suzy Nightingale
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