August 17, 2011
I expected to smell better than two boys who had not washed for 40 days.
I did not expect to be deemed less attractive than an orang-utan.
“You will never live this down,” my best friend grinned.
The things we do for science.
At the Feast of Stenches at the Secret Garden Party this past July, we presented our audience with an array of human scents for them to sample, judge and rate: two boys, a woman (myself), and an ape (Hannah, a female orang-utan, only revealed to be non-human after the judging).
More than 50 eager noses took turns sniffing our Smell Stations, plastic boxes containing ripped shreds of fabric from t-shirts worn by our four research subjects.
This was a Guerilla Science take on the famous t-shirt experiments, which investigate the molecular basis of attraction and by examining how humans preferentially rate the smells of other people.
“We humans usually think that we pick our mates according to how they look – we think of ‘love at first sight’ – we don’t appreciate the importance of smell,” says Dr Leslie Knapp, a biological anthropologist who specialises in immunogenetics at the University of Cambridge and a global authority on the relationship between smell and attraction in primates. “But studies of primates and even studies of humans have shown that our ability to smell is very important, even in present day society – how we perceive the smell of someone has an influence on how we react to them, and there is good evidence to suggest that it has important influences on how we choose our mates.”
Anyone who has ever known the smell of a lover may be able to relate: the scent of that certain someone is utterly distinct, wholly individual, and – when it belongs to the right person – completely intoxicating. Once upon a time, it was the smell of someone that lay in the crease between his nose and his face that made me weak in the knees.
The mysterious charm and allure of a particular person’s scent is seemingly impossible to put into words, though a few have uttered some rather poignant phrases: Napoleon is reputed to have written to Josephine, “Will return to Paris tomorrow evening. Don’t wash.”
July 2, 2011
For our Smelly Tweeter competition – a challenge to last 40 days and 40 nights without washing – contestant Daniel Farrel kept a regular blog about his experiences: 40 Days Of Filth.
[There have been] some pretty good reactions from people… Generally the reaction’s been a sort of vaguely amused disgust… My girlfriend has started to refer to me as ‘Stinky’, and she does claim I was unpleasant this morning, but again I reckon this is the result of her knowledge of my cleanliness not its actual effect…
Either I’m going to start to reek and everyone will notice or, and I think this is probably more likely, I’ll not be too noticeable and people will start to forget about it pretty quickly.
Not that I won’t smell at all, merely that I don’t think it’s going to get unbearable, and I do have some tactics planned…. [such as] nudity. My thinking is that if I spend most of my time at home bollock naked and exposed to the air it will mitigate the smell a bit. Even if not then it’ll keep me amused. Could be a little awkward if any of my friends decide to drop by unexpectedly though…
There was a point yesterday; when the ambient temperature in the office was about 24C and I could vaguely smell myself even through freshly laundered clothes; when I did start to get a bit paranoid about it, but I think it should be OK. Today was a cooler and my odour was definitely less obvious…
I’ve got used to the vague stickiness and greasiness that goes along with being unclean and my girlfriend doesn’t seem to mind physical contact. She did roll over the other morning and end up with her nose in my armpit which lead to a fairly comic reaction but apart from that it’s appears to be fine. No real complaints and only the occasion ‘I can smell you from here’ from the other side of the living room….
I am sitting less than three metres from a bathtub. This is torture. I will persevere. I WILL persevere…
It’s the last day. I’m a little disappointed. I’m not exactly going to miss the many and various odours that the different parts of me are currently producing, not exactly. There is a strange sort of comfort to be had from your own smell though. The one produced at about armpit level that is; any lower than the waist and things can be a bit shocking…
Maybe not disappointed, more preemptively nostalgic. I am the source of a variety of distinct odours. Not strong necessarily, but present, and mine. In some ways it’s strangely comforting. I smell undeniably of myself.
Illuminating. Read all of Daniel’s thoughts, opinions and complaints here.
July 6, 2010
Jelly brains and cucumber spaghetti were on the menu last Sunday when we pitched up at London’s Borough Market to dish out mind-enhancing portions of science to all comers.
Organized as part of the London Festival of Architecture, the day’s event brought together makers of musical vegetables, a range of architectural takes on the allotment, cute baby farm animals, and some very tasty pork rolls (shamefully, I ate mine in front of the piglets).
For starters we served up a sensory feast that played with colour, aroma and sound to distort and confuse our diners, but also – we hope – reveal to them the role of the different senses in flavour perception. Anne-Sylvie Christinel and Hayzell van der Lowe from the University of Oxford were on hand to encourage diners to sniff and taste all manner of odd titbits, charmingly presented in petri dishes and test tubes.
Anne-Sylvie and Hayzell also brought along a rubber tongue, which they stroked with a cotton bud in a rather disturbing effort to conjure up an illusion akin to the famous rubber hand trick.
Our main course saw food scientists Becki Taylor and Rachel Edwards-Stuart explore the genetics of flavour perception with a supertaster test, before handing round the miracle berry pills – they’re legal, honest! Dissolved slowly on the tongue, these magical tablets take you on two-hour ‘taste trip’, transforming puckeringly sour flavours – limes, lemons, vinegar, etc – into sweet, moreish delights.
We then dined on cucumber spaghetti prepared courtesy of top chef David Fuller and molecular gastronomy kit makers Cream Supplies, before sampling some rather worse-for-wear fruit jellies courtesy of yours truly. Hot summer’s day + train journey + gelatine = a sticky mess. Lesson learned.
And then there was dessert. Just look at that pud! Jelly brains, flavoured with raspberry, vanilla and panacotta, topped off with a fantastic bite-by-bite guide to neuroanatomy from brain expert Zarinah Agnew. And just as people’s appetites began to wane, in stepped Tony Goldstone to tell us how our brains control desire, reward and addiction…
So, all in all, a rather fun bit of alfresco dining. Not overcooked at all, unlike my puns. Look out for further flavour feasts and jelly brains at Lovebox, SGP and Green Man throughout the summer…