Welcome to the Science Lab that Smells for a Living.
We are the Stink Tank, a research laboratory exploring the sense of smell as a model for mind and brain in the Cognitive Science Program at Indiana University Bloomington.
We combine olfactometry (involving a custom-built instrument for the controlled measurement of odor responses) and EEG (electroencephalography).
The lab is currently engaged in three projects.
Barwich is the lead of the 1st project that is currently under and pursues a deceptively simple question: Does the brain classify odors according to their chemical or biological similarity? This research builds on recent work by the Firestein lab, which revealed that receptors and chemists do not model odor similarity using the same physicochemical features, and for which I designed an experiment to measure neural responses in response to stimuli of varying similarity.
The 2nd project, currently under way and conducted by Severino, focuses on the capacity for neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons) in adult olfaction—another characteristic exclusive to smell compared to other senses! Severino is developing a predictive computational model of cell lineages of the olfactory epithelium to be implemented in living cells.
The 3rd project, starting Fall 2023, is conducted by Barwich and Georgiadis (and in collaboration with Dr. Rich Shiffrin). This research compares odors to visual and auditory stimuli in tests of working memory.
All projects share a common theme: To understand smell we must develop models based on the particularities of the olfactory system, not generic models derived from vision.
Current core lab members are:
Severino, G., Laborde, Z., and A.S. Barwich (forthcoming). "The Degeneracy of Control Architectures in Cell Lineages: Implications for Tissue Homeostasis." ALife
Smell is the only sense for which an entirely new stimulus can be created artificially. Chemists frequently design novel molecules with physicochemical structures unknown in nature, sometimes with heretofore uncharted sensory qualities.
Smell possesses all the hallmarks of an open system where the nose cannot predict the features with which it comes in contact. But how does the brain make sense of a stimulus space with unknown boundaries that are still expanding?