[SCENTMATIC Co., Ltd.] Top runner in olfactory research University of Tokyo Graduate School Higashihara Laboratory x Centmatic
What is the new social value of fragrance derived from a
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Press release: February 12, 2024
Top Runners in Olfactory Research University of Tokyo Graduate School Higashihara Laboratory x Centmatic What is the new social value of scent derived from a neuroscientific perspective?
SCENTMATIC Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “SCENTMATIC”) is an AI system that mutually converts scents and words.
From February 2020, the Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the University of Tokyo, aims to verify from a scientific perspective the social value brought about by
We have been conducting joint research in collaboration with Kazunari Higashihara Laboratory. What kind of effects does the “supersensory experience of fragrance” proposed by KAORIUM have on people from the perspective of brain activity? Also, how can the knowledge obtained in this research be implemented in society? Now, five years after the start of their research, the two researchers are fascinated by the possibilities of smell and continue to explore the possibilities (Graduate School of the University of Tokyo).
We will deliver the efforts of Professor Higashihara/Centmatic Director Watanabe) in a conversation format.
*KAORIUM is a registered trademark of SCENTMATIC Co., Ltd.
What was the unexpected opportunity that led Professor Higashihara to the world of “fragrance”? !
There are various reasons behind this, but when I think about it now, I think the first experience that made me interested in the sense of smell was when I was in my first year of high school, watching the movie The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (released in 1983), directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi. There may have been. Tomoyo Harada, who plays the role of a high school girl, falls into a “time leap” (where both her consciousness and body move through time and space) after smelling the scent of lavender rising from a flask that fell down in a laboratory one day. This is a story with a neat setting. This was a powerful experience for me that fascinated me with the power of scent. Later, in graduate school, I would study receptors (proteins in living organisms that receive stimuli from the outside world or from inside the body), but I had always wanted to study olfactory receptors. Everyone must have at least some experience with the connection between scent and memory. Remembering old memories when you smell a certain scent… At that moment, we too are experiencing what is called a “time leap.” In the world of basic research, it has already been discovered that the sense of smell is more deeply connected to memory in the brain’s neural circuits than the sense of sight or hearing.
However, the area related to the sense of smell is a frontier with much unknown. Information about all kinds of scents exists in our daily lives. How do living things extract specific scents as important information from among the diverse scent signals that flood the outside world? Also, how is this information processed in the brain and how does it lead to changes in our behavior and emotions? I have long been driven by a curiosity to elucidate this mechanism. A group of like-minded people fascinated by the possibilities of fragrance met, and a joint industry-academia research was realized! *Watanabe*
In November 2019, we released “KAORIUM,” an AI system that converts fragrance into words. The “supersensory experience of fragrance” provided by this product was a great discovery of unknown sensations for us as well. I was deeply moved, just as I was when I encountered The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. We received positive feedback from the general public who actually experienced KAORIUM, such as “interesting”, “new”, and “discovery”.
This experience has enough impact to revolutionize existing
society…! A future where people can enjoy scents in ways they have never been aware of before, and where they can enjoy the richness of the world’s scents in their daily lives. We saw in KAORIUM the potential to bring about that kind of paradigm shift. On the other hand, in order to convey its value to society, scientific
substantiation was necessary. This is because the value this experience brings is very sensory, and at the time we released the product, there was no way to objectively explain it.
When dealing with the ambiguous subject of “scent,” it was essential to present to society values based on objective evidence. Therefore, we knocked on the door of the Higashihara Laboratory, which is a top runner in olfactory research in the academic world. His laboratory has a long history, and since its founding in 1999, it has conducted olfactory research using multifaceted methods such as biochemistry, molecular biology, and neuroscience, and has achieved numerous results. . For us, the realization of this joint research means that we have gained a truly powerful partner in spreading the value of the “supersensory experience of fragrance,” which has not yet been defined by society.
What I most agreed with Centmatic’s efforts was the concept of KAORIUM, which attempts to create new value by linking “scent” and “words.” It is true that the way a person perceives a scent tends to be greatly influenced by senses other than the sense of smell, and words, in particular, have such an impact that they can instantly change the value of a scent that a person perceives. . For example, when you smell a scent, you might initially feel pleasant, but if someone tells you that it’s a very dangerous substance, you’ll immediately feel uncomfortable.
This is a phenomenon that can be understood from experience, but it has been demonstrated that inputting negative words at the same time as a scent increases the physiological stress index of subjects. In this way, when we perceive and interpret scents, our five senses, including hearing, sight, and taste, interact with each other. In olfactory research in particular, I felt that it was necessary to consider such cross-modal aspects (how senses other than smell interact and are integrated when perceiving scent).
When we encountered Centomatic, we were just beginning to engage in cross-modal research. KAORIUM’s concept of co-creating a new olfactory experience that changes the way scents are perceived by linking “scent” and “words” exactly matched the purpose we wanted to demonstrate through neuroscience. By teaming up with Centmatic, we have begun joint research with the hope that the knowledge obtained through our basic research will be effectively utilized in society. What is the content of the joint research to scientifically explore the new social value of fragrance?
We use brain measurement techniques to observe the brain activity of subjects while experiencing KAORIUM. After smelling the scent, the subject is asked to select the word that most closely matches the scent from among the multiple words that are displayed. The purpose of this research is to elucidate from a neuroscientific perspective how the brain responds and what effects it has on humans by changing the conditions and repeating this multiple times. is.
What’s really interesting is that when you see words that describe quality (e.g., earthy, lemon, lavender), when you see words that describe feelings (e.g., crisp, soft, elegant), when you see words that describe feelings (e.g., refreshing, soft, elegant), you can say, ” (e.g., I don’t feel it, I feel it a little, I feel it strongly), and the activated areas of the brain are clearly different. Through this research, it is becoming clear that the experience of inputting scents and words at the same time activates various areas of the brain, so I feel that there are various possibilities for the value that KAORIUM can bring to people. I will.
We aim to realize a prosperous society by promoting basic research and social implementation.
* Higashihara *
In our laboratory, we are also trying to decipher what kind of scents people are exposed to and how they feel from data on brain activity that can be observed when people smell scents. This is already being elucidated in the fields of vision and hearing. By observing brain activity, it is becoming possible to decipher the images that subjects are seeing and the sounds they are hearing in real time. On the other hand, the sense of smell is a more cross-modal field, so its mechanism is quite complex.
This is a very challenging area, but if we can decipher it, we could, for example, produce the same brain activity as when smelling a specific scent, without the scent substance. By sending signals to the brain, it evokes scents without the act of “smelling” them…this is what is called “fragrance VR.”
To give an example of how our efforts to activate the brain through scent and words have been put to practical use in society, since 2021, our company has been rolling out “fragrance classes” to educational institutions across the country. This is a unique educational program in which children write down words that come to mind while smelling the scent of local specialties such as yuzu, green plums, and roses, and freely create stories. Based on the knowledge obtained from this research, it can be used not only as an opportunity to promote brain activation that cannot be covered in existing school education, but also as an educational program that reaffirms the potential of the olfactory region and fosters children’s sensibilities. The program has received high praise, and the number of schools hosting the event is increasing one after another.
* Higashihara *
Although the school has an audio-visual room, it does not have an olfactory room. I strongly sympathize with the fact that all of Centmatic’s initiatives have a consistent philosophy of discovering new possibilities in fragrance and utilizing them in a positive way for society. When it comes to the effects of scents in existing society, the focus has been on measures to counteract negative odors, as exemplified by “deodorization” and “deodorization.” They have sometimes even caused new problems, such as fragrance pollution. In this respect, Centmatic’s approach highlights the positive aspects of fragrance that have been overlooked until now. What’s more, I feel that the attempt to maximize the positive effects of scent by adding words to it is truly innovative. Until now, the opportunity to associate words with scents to expand the way they enjoy them and determine their value and preferences has only been available to a limited number of people with special knowledge and experience, such as sommeliers, flavorists, and perfumers. It was limited.
With the spread of KAORIUM, a future where such opportunities are widely available to the general public may be just around the corner. It would be extremely interesting if we could use the cross-modal effects of scent and words to update the value of people’s experiences in all aspects of society, including eating and drinking and purchasing activities.
Right now, we are exploring the realization of personalized services that utilize KAORIUM’s big data. If we can derive scents that individual users prefer from the combination of “scents” and “words” stored in KAORIUM, for example, when purchasing perfume at an online shop, we can select the appropriate product without going through the process of scent sampling. You can make suggestions. This could also be applied to purchasing food products such as wine, sake, and chocolate.
The big data accumulated in KAORIUM seems to have many perspectives that can be utilized to realize a well-being society. Once you start thinking about scent services that are tied to personal information such as user preferences and values, you will run out of ideas. For example, by linking a smart watch with KAORIUM, we would be able to automatically sense the user’s situation, such as when they need relaxation or when their concentration is being challenged, and provide the right scent at the right time. I think the quality of life will definitely improve.
* Watanabe *
Thanks to our joint research with Professor Higashihara, we have not only deepened our belief in the value that the “supersensory experience of fragrance” brings to people, but have also uncovered even more possibilities for fragrance. By conducting basic research and speedy social implementation, we hope to use the knowledge gained through this research to create a better future.
* Kazunari Higashihara*
*Professor, Biochemistry Laboratory, Department of Applied
Biochemistry, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, The University of Tokyo*
Graduated from the Department of Agricultural Chemistry, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Tokyo in 1989. Completed doctoral program in Chemistry, State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1993 (Glenn D.
Professor Prestwich, Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry). Since August 1993, Robert has been a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University School of Medicine.
Professor Lefkowitz), and since October 1995, he has been an assistant in the Department of Neurobiology, Brain Research Institute, Faculty of Medicine, University of Tokyo. After working as an assistant at Kobe University Biosignal Research Center from 1998, he joined the University of Tokyo from 1999.
Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, Department of Advanced Life Sciences Assistant professor, current position since 2009. From 2012 to 2018, he concurrently served as research director of the ERATO Higashihara Chemosensory Signaling Project, and from 2013 to 2016, he concurrently served as a visiting professor at Zhejiang University, China. 2019 Assistant to the President of the University of Tokyo, currently serves as a member of the University of Tokyo Council.
* Susumu Watanabe*
*Director of SCENTMATIC Co., Ltd.*
After graduating from the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering, he engaged in new business development at a major domestic manufacturer. We conduct research and development on stress measurement and reduction in collaboration with domestic and international research institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Tokyo.
Since 2018, he has been in charge of investment operations at an Israeli venture capital firm. Focusing on seed-stage startups in the mental health field, he engages in a wide range of activities, including sourcing, due diligence, and support for research and development activities of investees.
In 2020, returned to Japan and joined SCENTMATIC Co., Ltd. He has been appointed as a director since 2021 and continues to his current position.
[SCENTMATIC Co., Ltd.]
Centmatic was established in 2019 as a scent business design group that co-creates scents that can add “emotional experiential value” to anything using an AI system that converts scent into language. Focusing on the sense of smell, which is the most unknown area among the five senses, we are developing the AI tool “KAORIUM” that converts scent into words. Until now, it has been difficult to convey the concept of “scent” to others due to differences in individual sensibilities, and there has been no clear indicator. With the advent of KAORIUM, we can expect the use of “scent” in a variety of business applications. Centmatic is working on “digitalization of the sense of smell.” It evolves people’s sensibilities through the “fragrance experience” of scents and words, and brings innovation to business in all industries.
Representative Director: Shunji Kurisu
3rd floor, 4-22-7 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0013
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