Tag Archives: sense of smell

The Hidden Senses: The Secrets of Taste and Smell

Fifth Sense participated in the Hidden Senses event, part of the Being Human festival, held at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre on 21st November 2014.  The festival, in it’s first year, was delivered by the School of Advanced Study (SOAS) at the University of London, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy.

The Hidden Senses was focused on exploring the senses of smell and taste, and looking at some of the many ways in which they contribute to our lives, via a series of talks and interactive demonstrations

Chrissi and Duncan ask guests to get sniffing!

Chrissi and Duncan ask guests to get sniffing!

Fifth Sense’s Duncan Boak, Chrissi Kelly and Sarah Page were on hand to talk to people about the importance of the sense of smell and the impact of olfactory disorders. Chrissi led the way by asking guests to ‘Smell the Difference’ between a number of different citrus fragrance oils, an activity that a few people struggled with, questioning whether they really paid enough attention to their own sense of smell.   Meanwhile Sarah was displaying a series of photographic portraits of people with anosmia she had taken.  You can see these on her website here.

Here’s Sarah on what our participation in our event meant to her:

‘Amongst the engaging lectures, interactive talks and demonstrations involving taste and smell, Fifth Sense acted as a distinct reminder that these are senses that not everyone may be able experience the way most take for granted.

My involvement in the event led me to meet another fellow congenital anosmic, Neil. We both spoke openly about congenital anosmia and the problems we shared (that may or may not be due to our condition). Despite shedding a few tears on my part, it was an opportunity to connect with someone in person and support each other with honest advice and open ears. Without Fifth Sense and similar events like ‘The Hidden Senses’, the understanding of taste and smell disorders and the support there is for people experiencing them is very, very limited.’

It was also great to see quite a number of Fifth Sense members who came along on the day to speak with us and learn more. The event was a great success, many thanks to the SOAS ‘Rethinking the Senses’ team for their hard work in organising it.


An Olfactory History of London – Alex Rhys-Taylor

Those of you who read the blog post about the Fifth Sense charity launch on 15th March 2014 will be familiar with the name of Alex Rhys-Taylor.  Alex is an Urban Sociologist at Goldsmiths College with a particular interest in the ways in which we experience cities through the senses.

He opened our launch event with a fascinating talk on the history of London through the sense of smell, and gave some insights into how we have got to a point where the sense of smell is so devalued in Western culture.

Alex has recently recorded a podcast which expands on the talk he gave at our launch and has been kind enough to share this with us.  Click the link below to listen to ‘An Olfactory History of London’, part of the Humania podcast series.


Design with Scents 2014

Design with Scents is the world’s only workshop focused on the design of a fragrance for a specific space or environment.   The week-long programme includes an in-depth look at how fragrances are designed, including the different scent families and ingredients used in fragrance manufacture.  Fifth Sense Founder Duncan Boak studied the course in 2013 ( see the very first  post on our blog here), and returned this year as one of the speakers, whilst Fifth Sense’s Smell Training lead member Chrissi Kelly was one of the students, on what was for her a very important olfactory journey.  Here’s her report on Design with Scents 2014.

I attended this course at the suggestion of Duncan Boak, founder of Fifth Sense. I became anosmic two years ago and since then have struggled to regain only a tiny amount of my previous ability to smell.

At the recommendation of my ENT, I began smell training last year. The results of this have been of great interest to me, and from the beginning I kept detailed records about my response to it. I am now heading up a program within Fifth Sense on this subject. I have so far used myself as guinea pig, trying all kinds of methods to find the best way to achieve improvement through training. I felt that I might learn some techniques for smell training from the perfume industry. Until now I have been using the basic technique described by German ENT specialist Thomas Hummel (using lemon, eucalyptus, clove and rose). His research study showed that smell training was of benefit to people with anosmia or hyposmia.

My ability to discern and differentiate between odour objects changed dramatically in the week of the workshop. I do know what has happened, only that I after one week I was suddenly aware of all the smells we used in our classroom work. I would describe it like this: whereas before the course I was able to detect the presence of smells, they were very mixed and difficult to pick apart, rather like putting food into a processor and whizzing everything around until it is an unrecognisable paste. Having spent the week smelling, discussing and training, I am able to pick out the individual notes again, as if my olfactory receptors have started doing their specialist jobs (receiving one odour molecule) rather than poorly interpreting the odour objects, and sending a “grey noise” message.

The course also introduced me to the idea of “fragrances” that are not necessarily appealing, but are nonetheless part of the smellscape. These include sulphurous compounds (onions, garlic, the smell of natural gas), chemical smells (such as glue), natural smells from the environment (earth, mould), and animal smells. These smells are just as important to train with as “fragrances”. Consider how important it would be to train with the smell of natural gas, and be able to detect a life-threatening leak. My own experience has shown me that training intensely with certain families of smells, for instance wood essences, sensitised me to the woody fragrances we used in the Design with Scents Workshop. So one of the more useful ideas for going forward that I gained from my week is the idea of training with these non-fragrant smells.

The Design with Scents Workshop has been an important milestone in my smell training. I will continue and hope to tailor what I have learned to make it useful to other FS members. I am extremely grateful to the DwS tutors for their interest in FS and my case, as well as their helpful suggestions.

Chrissi Kelly

For more information on Design with Scents visit http://designwithscents.com

For more information on Smell Training, visit http://www.fifthsense.org.uk/smell-training













Apolline Saillard – Olfaction: Not Invisible Anymore

Central Saint Martins student Apolline Saillard recently completed her MA Communications Design project on anosmia, which featured contributions from Fifth Sense members.  Here’s Fifth Sense’s Sarah Page to tell us more.

‘Unknown Quantities’ is the title of a joint publication by MA Culture, Criticism and Curation and MA Communication Design students of Central Saint Martins University. The work in the journal is incredibly diverse, due to each student having the ability to pursue their own choice of topic; exploring themes of regeneration, gentrification, interdisciplinary and collaboration, especially across art and science. Among the students contributing to the publication was Apolline Saillard, MA Communication Design student.

Apolline got in touch with me late January this year. She was working on an piece of work about anosmia for UQ and asked if I would like to have my photographic series of portraits based on anosmia published in the first edition of UQ. My instant reaction was “YES, of course”! The photographs were something that I had worked on in September 2013, in hope that they would somehow catch the attention of the many people oblivious to the word ‘anosmia’. UQ was a great opportunity to do just that.

It was clear from reading Apolline’s emails that she had a keen interest in anosmia and I was extremely happy to find someone else exploring this. Finally, we met in person in March at the Fifth Sense charity press launch at the grand Senate House in London (which by the way, it was an absolutely fantastic day. I urge anyone with a smell or taste disorder or an interest in the senses of smell and taste to attend the next Fifth Sense event!).

Apolline's display at her degree show

Apolline’s display at her degree show

Fifth Sense Founder Duncan Boak and I both contributed to Apolline’s piece in UQ, and we were invited to the Lethaby Gallery in London for the launch party. I met Apolline there early to attend her workshop on Anosmia. Apolline lead her presentation while referring to statistics from the Fifth Sense ‘Quality of Life Impact of Smell and Taste Disorders’ survey and quotes from people affected by anosmia with accompanying images. A small bunch of onlookers sat and quietly listened to this completely unheard-of discovery unraveling before them. I gave a brief description of my work and then we both sat down to prepare us for the questions heading our way. Afterwards, Apolline passed around two 3D printed modeled noses and asked if they could tell the difference between the two. One was a replica of a person with anosmia, and one with their full sense of smell (obviously, there are no visual telltale signs). Anosmia is sometimes referred to as an invisible disability and this certainly came across well in Apolline’s work.

photo 3

L-R: Duncan Boak, Apolline Saillard and Sarah Page

Later that day we had chance to wander around the degree show with a glass of wine and take a look at the work surrounding us in the room. The exhibition housed some fantastic work, but personally one project in particular stood out for me the most. ‘Multisensory Plateware Design’ by Ferdinand Freiler focused on creating a more intense flavour and dining experience through the use of plateware. On display were two unusual white, small oval bowls. The characteristics (colour, texture, shape and size) were said to be specifically designed to compliment and enhance the eating experience. The first bowl had smooth small ridges on the outside, the second was the opposite, with evenly spaced spiky ridges. I thought how great of an idea this was especially for people who’ve lost their enjoyment in food.

At 8pm the launch party finally took off. The room was buzzing with students, tutors, contributors and members of the public. Following a very warm welcome, everyone involved were given a very public ‘thank you’ for the work they contributed. Some hundred printed copies of UQ were stacked upon each other on tables. Finally, I got my hands on it! It was a cheerful orange and grey book, over 1cm thick with a durable matte texture; something much more substantial than your everyday magazine. 23 pages in was Apolline’s work titled ‘ODOURS; Give Voice to the Silence’. Included was an interview with Patty Canac (olfacto-therapist), an hallucinatory illustration of the olfactory system by Rebecca Hendin, portrait photographs by Apolline and an article about anosmia and Fifth Sense with my images accompanying the write up.
photo-15I was extremely proud to see the piece finished. Seeing the whole 15 pages, all based on the olfactory system, gave me a sense of hope and determination for the future: What else can we utilise to spread the word? Who else can we get involved? Where could Fifth Sense be in a few years time?

I’d like to congratulate everyone involved, to the students completing their studies, and a very big thank you to Apolline for helping give people with anosmia a voice.



Apolline Saillard – Olfaction: Not Invisible Anymore:

Patty Canac:

Rebecca Hendin – Illustration of the olfactory system:

Sarah Kathleen Page – Anosmia photographic work:

Fifth Sense at Farsley Festival

We took part in the Farsley Festival in Leeds on Monday 26th May, and chose a prime location to talk about smell and taste to people – right next to the stall selling home-made pizza from the pizza oven in Farsley churchyard!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, what worked particularly well was the jelly bean taste test (getting people to eat a jelly bean whilst holding their nose – it has no flavour – and then letting go and the flavour suddenly rushes into the mouth).  We tried this with lots of people, many of whom thought it was amazing – so many people had no idea at all just how important the sense of smell is to flavour perception.

What was also noticeable, just as in previous public events we have done, was just how many people we talked to had a smell-related disorder.  In the first 30 minutes we spoke to four people with chronic sinus problems, two of whom had been given operations to remove nasal polyps in the past that had been completely ineffective.  We were able to pass details on of the clinicians with whom we are working which were gratefully received.

Another successful event, and as Fifth Sense continues to grow and develop then we’ll be looking to visit a town or city near you!

FSFarsley Fest

‘Does the smell of this make you think of a place, a person, a situation?’ The incredible power of the sense of smell in evoking memories

Fifth Sense visits the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

On 22nd April Fifth Sense visited the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute to meet geneticist Dr Darren Logan and his colleague Gabi Gurria. Many of our followers will have heard of Darren as he spoke at the Fifth Sense Charity Launch in March. His and Gabi’s work at the Sanger Institute is focused on understanding the genetics of behaviour, and how the sense of smell influences behaviour.

Much of the work that Darren’s team do involves studying the behaviour of mice, and how they respond to olfactory stimuli. For example, one such experience involved placing a drop of male mouse urine at a particular point in a cage. A female mouse was then released in to the cage, and made its way to the part of the cage where the urine was, attracted by the smell of the male mouse. When the same mouse was then released in to a cage without any urine, multiple times, it made its way to exactly the same spot. Thus, both behaviour and memory was influenced by the sense of smell.

Darren and his team aren’t just interested in olfaction in mice, however; they are also interested in how research in this area can potentially benefit smell disorder sufferers in future. For example, by studying the genes turned on in the nose of post-viral anosmia (PVOL) sufferers and comparing to that of people with a functional sense of smell, can gene expression patterns be detected in patients with PVOL?   As Darren explained, though, seeing patterns is one thing, but understanding why and how these occur is another, given that we still at the very beginning of learning how our genes make us who we are.

‘You can think of a gene expression pattern like a barcode for a particular cell or tissue in a healthy state (where each of 37,000 genes is on or off). If the cell or tissue is infected or damaged, the pattern will change – as will the barcode. Thus we may be able to spot a barcode that is characteristic of PVOL. The next phase is to ask which genes are differently expressed between the healthy and damaged tissues – as this may provide clues into how and why it is damaged and how it might be treated.’

The second part of our visit involved a tour of the Sanger Institute, which included a visit to the labs where DNA is sequenced to create complete sequences, or genomes. These are then stored so they can be analysed by the researchers at the Institute whose work encompasses many aspects of biomedics.

For more information on Darren’s work, visit http://www.sanger.ac.uk/research/faculty/dlogan/

To read about the Human Genome Project, the first time that the human genome was sequenced in its entirety, visit http://www.sanger.ac.uk/about/history/hgp/

DNA Sequencer1

DNA being sequenced in the Sanger Institute’s labs

DNA Sequencer2

Fifth Sense at Imagining the Future of Medicine

Fifth Sense had the privilege of participating in the Imagining the Future of Medicine event, organised by Imperial College London in partnership with TEDMed on April 21st. We were able to speak to delegates who attended The Cell in the Sir Alexander Fleming building on the South Kensington campus, where innovators in health care were on hand to discuss their work and objectives. Fifth Sense Founder Duncan Boak, Mr Carl Philpott of the University of East Anglia and the JPUH Smell and Taste Clinic, Maggie Rosen and Chrissi Kelly were on hand to meet the public and ask “What does your sense of smell mean to you”?

As well as discussing taste and smell disorders with visitors to the stand, we were using an innovative device called the Scentee to test people’s sense of smell.  This involved them smelling different scents emitted by the device and then completing a short questionnaire.  This was our first trial run of the National Smell and Taste Survey that we are planning on running in 2015.  This was a huge success and we had a small crowd of visitors around our stand for the duration of the event.

Duncan also delivered a talk in the lecture theatre to around 150 visitors in which he talked about the importance of the sense of smell to our lives, drawing on first-hand accounts of Fifth Sense members from our ongoing quality of life survey to demonstrate the huge impact that smell and taste disorders can have upon people’s lives.

As always, it is of great interest to speak to the public and hear their stories first-hand. Perhaps the most striking feature of our time at Monday’s event was the number of people who came forward to say that they, or someone they knew, suffered from some form of olfactory disorder. This supports what we already know to be the case: whilst smell and taste disorders remain largely hidden, the effects of them have far-reaching consequences.

The later part of the afternoon was spent in the Royal Albert Hall, where Dara O’Brian hosted the Imagining the Future of Medicine lecture series – three sessions with four inspirational speakers in each – on innovation, creativity and expertise in healthcare. Fascinating insights and plenty to draw on for Fifth Sense. During the networking event before and during dinner, we were able to meet a number of the speakers, and again, we were told people’s personal stories of anosmia. The recurring themes of the day for Fifth Sense were that those who are unacquainted with anosmia are surprised to hear of the profound effects on sufferers, and for those who already knew of the condition first hand, they are bewildered and isolated–an indication of the timeliness of the Fifth Sense message.


What does your sense of smell mean to you? Duncan Boak delivers his talk in the lecture theatre at The Cell

Imagining the Future of Medicine in the Royal Albert Hall

Imagining the Future of Medicine in the Royal Albert Hall