The olfactory system can detect and identify thousands of odorants. Odorants are small molecules that easily evaporate and become airborne. When we breathe or sniff the air, odorants are drawn into our nose, beginning a process that translates chemical energy into olfactory percepts in our brains. This primer provides a brief introduction to the science of olfaction.
Our sense of taste acts as a gatekeeper when we ingest food. By analyzing food quality (sweet, bitter, salty, etc.), taste helps us decide whether to swallow something that’s in our mouth. The sense of taste also sends signals to our digestive system to help the body use the nutrients in foods effectively. This short primer provides backgound on the science of taste.
The Monell Chemical Senses Center, founded in 1968, is an independent nonprofit basic research institute focused on the senses of taste and smell.
Basic research at Monell increases knowledge about the mechanisms and functions of the senses of taste, smell, and chemical irritation (such as the “bite” of hot peppers or the “cool” of mint). Monell’s scientists choose research projects based on their own curiosity and interests, without regard to immediate practical applications. Findings are published in a wide variety of peer-reviewed scientific journals.
In the 1960s, very little was understood about the essential mechanisms and functions of what were thought to be the “minor senses” – taste and smell. As a junior professor in the veterinary school at Cornell, Dr. Morley Kare became increasingly interested in this field as he investigated food choice in a variety of species. With encouragement from the government (e.g., the National Science Foundation and the Veterans Affairs Administration) and from several corporate leaders, Dr. Kare envisioned a multidisciplinary scientific institute dedicated to the study of these senses that are vital to human health and well being.