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Washington and Lee University

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Research

What do we do?

The overarching focus of research in the lab involves the investigation and understanding of the neurophysiological aspects of the human olfactory system. Because smelling is also about sniffing, we try to understand the relationship between odor perception and breathing.

Research in this field is new and that means we often have to handle all aspects of a project - from writing the software that we use to analyze the brain activity data to constructing the device to deliver the odors. Students work at all levels in the lab. Some write software for controlling the experiments while others get subjects ready for data collection. Still others learn how to do the analysis of the brain activity data.

 

Why?

Olfaction is old in our brains. Many people believe that as we have made our way through time, we no long need smell and it has become an evolutionary vestige of what it once was. The data don't support that view. Many studies have shown that odors still play a significant role in our lives even if we don't often notice them. We want to know why they don't seem important. That may give us some clues about the whole nature of human cognition and its evolution.

 

Current Projects:

  • Neurodynamic response to odor change

The project reflects an earlier study performed by Walter Freeman involving the neurological response to odor change in rabbits. Participants are supplied, first with one of three odors, followed immediately by another during the subsequent inhalation; fifty percent of the time, the second odor matches the first. The intent of the study is to establish, explain, and characterize a change in energy state of the brain, specifically in reference to an increase in gamma band power, in response to the change in odor.