Smell and the City

Urban smell enthusiasts

CSI Manchester: Smell Exercises for Junior Detectives

Smell and the City had a great time sniffing around Manchester Museum with groups of Junior Smell Detectives and their families earlier this month, as part of an event linking into the Manchester Science Festival. The event was inspired by an exhibition running at the museum until April 2013 on the British and their Dogs.

Bloodhounds, we know, have a great ability to track other animals and people by the power of smell and in our workshops, we used a range of different exercises to explore the childrens’ senses of smell and to explore whether they and their families were similarly able to track and detect different odours around the Museum. These included:

  • Asking the children to hold their noses tightly and place a jellybean in their mouths (vegetarian varieties of course!). After a period of around 10 seconds, they were asked to remove their fingers, at which point they could taste fully the beans. This exercise was designed to illustrate the important relationship between smell and taste.

  • The children were given paper coffee cups with their lids on and containing different items (coffee, ginger essence, chocolate, Satsuma oranges, aniseed) and asked to smell the odours through the drinking hole, and name them. This  exercise illustrated the difficulties that are faced in attempting to identify and name odours without information gained through other senses.

  • We blindfolded a willing volunteer and laid a trail of vanilla essence on the floor. This exercise was designed to explore whether humans can follow a scent trail like a dog. This exercise was great fun but perhaps the least successful as the junior detectives struggled to follow the scent.
  • We also displayed to the children some of the animal skulls (polar bear, seal and otter) from the Museum’s collections and used these in describing smell receptors and how they work. I really enjoyed this part of the exercise and the smell receptors looked like what I can only describe as the inside of a chocolate flake!
  • I then led family smellwalks around the museum and the families marked on a map the odours they detected, and then rated what they thought of them using a smiley face system (Chernoff Faces). We had a wonderful time sniffing exhibitions, glass cases, the wooden walls and computer equipment, and the results… well in general, people didn’t detect as many smells as they thought they would, although the winning sniffing team detected and named 17 different odours. Odours detected ranged from ‘paint’ to ‘hot, burning computers’, ‘decomposition’ to ‘food’ and ‘fresh air’, and most surprisingly… ‘the dentists’!

The activities were designed and delivered collaboratively over a couple of days by Anna Bunney, Curator of Public Programmes at the Museum, myself (Victoria Henshaw) and Professor Matthew Cobb, my colleague from Zoology at the University of Manchester who undertakes fascinating work on the genetics of smell. He and I recorded a podcast of a smellwalk of The University of Manchester campus, available here to download.

Many thanks to Anna Bunney for all of her work on the event and thanks also to all of the children and their families who participated, you were BRILLIANT!


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This entry was posted on November 11, 2012 by in Sensory Events, Smell and the City Project and tagged , , , , , .
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