Category Archives: Alaska

Consider Smell: Arctic Edition (Afterthoughts)

Since the exhibit came down last week, I thought I’d post a few memories of First Friday exhibit opening night at Ursa Major Distillery for Consider Smell: Arctic Edition and some followup on responses from visitors to the gallery over the month-long display! 20160304_172712We had a nice long line waiting for drinks before seeing the art on Friday as well as a good crowd throughout the night. 20160304_174332






People seemed to have fun engaging with the smells we made for my photos:

We offered people a chance to respond to the exhibit and my favorite was:

senses embody everything we experience

from the feeling of fresh grass on bare feet

to warm socks on a chilly hardwood floor

your senses are everything



We asked people to circle a favorite word and this was a fun response:

My first gin and tonic was at an outdoors club in a cave-like setting in Thailand.


Warm and river were popular words–not surprising with breakup starting!



We even had a few creative reactions!




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Filed under Alaska, Olfaction, Senses

What does this smell like?

At the Consider Smell exhibit at Ursa Major Distillery during the month of March, visitors were asked to write down what they thought an unlabelled vial (birch) smelt like. The word cloud interestingly shows smoked/smoky/campfire as common responses–a lot of people were reminded of smoked meats and fishes either from fall hunt or spring spawning, a regional lifestyle specific response!

What do I smell like?



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3 April 2016 · 21:59

Consider Smell: Arctic Edition (Behind the Scenes Sneak Preview)

Join #considersmell this Friday in Fairbanks Alaska for an Arctic Edition of a travelling series of events that explore smelling, and other senses, through time and space. Come to the Ursa Major Distillery on Parks Highway from 5-8 for a multi-sensory experience!

prepartySome tools to get us started: the smoking gun! We use this to create foods from local trees (well, mostly!) Sadly, we can’t serve that yummy leek ash pasta on Friday!

a walk

the team


Our team takes a break! A walk in the woods to contemplate the light, the art, the science, and to smell things (we brought a pro along for help!).


a blue ballThe installation explores the synergy of art and science. Actively engage your senses and travel the interlocking sensual pathways that lead to perception. Explore molecular cocktails (we love the Arctic blueball mojito-see blue ball photo!), neurogastronomy, olfactory art, smell masks, a sound installation, 3D odor molecules, and photography enhanced with bespoke smells.The first thing installed is calm!


read meThe exhibit is partially up! First goes the calm–that and the cocktail (thanks, Rob!) helped make the vinyl cuts even more fun to put up! A few photo nooks masked out and the rest up tomorrow!


Here’s a sneak peak of some things on offer–photographs with smells created, curated, and distilled!

earth-fall-k isovalericSmell fall in Fairbanks…

rural-super snow-j snow


Winter in Fairbanks…

urban-harringey-urban decay
Urbanity in Haringey…

urban-banksy-j urban decay

or the Banksy’s stone canvas at Turnpike Lane.

Maybe sweet Chinese incense along Regent’s Canal after an afternoon on Primrose Hill.

Or the fresh air of Whitstable Seafront!



Smell Masks! They tell a story unique to an individual–a bespoke blend of smells crafted collaboratively. Come and smell the narrative of the Yukon Crossing and the Arctic Change.smell mask

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Filed under Alaska, Food, Olfaction, Science, Senses

Consider Smell: Arctic Edition

Kara C. Hoover and Julia Feuer-Cotter

4 March 2016. Anthropology Colloquium in Bunnell 405 from 3-4:30
Consider Smell: Smelling Imagined Geographies through Time and Space

4 March 2016. First Friday at Ursa Major Distillery from 5-8pm
Join us for a multi-sensory experience that opens the nose to engage deeply across the senses via multisensory molecular cocktails with locally produced spirits, neurogastronomical foods, and interactive art that imagines other geographies. Art pieces range from molecular rendering of olfactory signaling, photography enhanced with bespoke smells, interactive sculptures, crowd sourced smell maps, and smell masks which explore another person’s reality through the nose. This series of works explores the synergy of art and science via the sense of smell. Kara C Hoover uses the nose as an environmental probe to explore smelling across time and space. Julia Feuer-Cotter explores how this environmental perception is enacted in Alaska’s recent past through cultural practices along the Dalton Highway.

14-17 March Arctic Perspectives at the UAF Gallery
Visit “Exploring the past with the sense of smell: circumpolar narratives and the creation of place: at the art show “Arctic Perspectives” at the  Fine Arts Complex/UAF Art Gallery. An opening reception for the exhibit will be held on 14 March 2016 and all are welcome to attend.  Art will be on display 12–17 March during regular Gallery hours, 9am – 5pm. The Gallery is located in the Art Department wing of the Fine Arts Complex, Room 313. On the left side of the Great Hall, the Gallery is the first door to the left immediately upon entering the wing.

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Filed under Alaska, Denisovan, Neandertal, Olfaction, Science, Senses

Smelling in the polar vortex

Since so many parts of the US (mainly the Great Plains, mid-west, and parts of the northeast) are experiencing normal interior Alaska winter temperatures right now, I thought I’d write about what/if we smell when it gets cold.

Our ability to smell things is related to temperature because temperature is a key factor in volatility (tendency to vaporize). We tend to smell volatile compounds (those with high vapor pressure at normal temperatures) that have molecular weights below 300 daltons. Volatiles with lower molecular mass tend to have lower boiling points and evaporate and diffuse more rapidly than compounds with high molecular masses. For example, ethanol (pure alcohol) has a mass of 46 daltons and will vaporize and diffuse at a lower temperature and more rapidly than indole (a fecal smelling element often added to jasmine perfumes to produce a musky scent) which has a mass of 117 daltons.


Ice fog in Fairbanks

Boiling is one end of the vaporization extreme and freezing is the other. The freezing point of water is 0 but other molecules have lower thresholds–however, even if a molecule isn’t frozen, the colder it is, the less thermal energy it will have and its volatility will be reduced (think  of how the aroma of cooled food is not as strong when it was hot). When temperatures are extremely cold, the sense of smell is de facto eliminated (even if your nose weren’t blocked by anti-frostbite protective gear like balaclavas). During the winter in Fairbanks, the only things you can reliably smell outside (down to a certain temperature) are wood burning stoves and car exhaust pollution–both in heavy concentrations trapped close to the ground due to temperature inversion. Maybe another reason we like hot bevvies during cold weather is the welcome rush of volatiles!

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Filed under Alaska, Science, Senses

Smell of the week: Fire

A favorite olfactory pleasure is the smell of burning wood  (even if the guilt from wood particulate pollution diminishes it a bit). I had the first fire of the season in my cabin last night as pictured to the right (I do my best–the wood was dry and seasoned). Not coincidentally, Starvation Gulch takes place at UAF this weekend, 24 September. The first event held in 1923 featured an entire town that was built for daytime entertainment and burned for nighttime fun and warmth (fall comes early here in Alaska). Now students compete to build the most elaborate and creative structures. Throughout the years, the nature of the annual ‘passing the torch of knowledge’ has changed tremendously from shotgun defenses of student wood piles in 1948 to drunken brawls in 1956 which prompted a 16 year campus alcohol ban (luckily we are no longer a dry campus and have our own pub). Saturday night is the culmination of the festival when everything is burnt to the ground (the pic below is mine from last year).

Volatiles are released when the temperature of the chemical interaction between wood and oxygen is between 300 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Volatiles such as hydrogen, methane, ethylene, ethane, benzene and carbon monoxide are released up to 1300°F. Trees have different chemical compositions which result in different odors (to a degree).

Volatiles are particularly relevant to the food industry for making better wood-smoked products. BBQs fueled by hickory or other aromatic wood chips smell better and enhance the BBQ’d foods with the aroma. Meats (like jerky or bacon) that are smoked with different woods are seen as more flavour-filled or richer tasting by some consumers. How then to synthesize this scent if you aren’t a small-scale producer of gourmet smoked foods? Again, we turn to chemists for their analysis of wood volatiles to find the key chemical compounds for that smoked flavour. Oak (used in so many smoked foods, fires, and alcohol) has a keynote of whiskey lactone (quercus lactone), a compound with a strong coconut aroma!

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Smell of the week: Interior Alaska

This has been an olfactory week for me. I arrived back in the Interior late on Sunday night and moved into an Rainey-Skarland cabin circa 1936 built at UAF by the first anthropologist and department founder. The smell of new paint outside and wood oil inside (along with other various scents common to log cabins in Alaska) greeted me. Beyond the wood oil used to clean the logs, the interior of the cabin is a mix of ketones and, in some areas, something resembling indole. Indole in low concentrations is often added to jasmine perfumes as some find the floral scent is enhanced by it. Not me. I am particularly sensitive to indole and find it cloying–actually, indole doesn’t smell a whole lot different to me whether in low or high concentations! I am using mint grapefruit and lavendar-vanilla combos to brighten the olfactory mood since the interior is quite dark (dark wood and dim lighting). My kitchen (which has no logs) smells like coffee right now. After one or two vindaloos and chana aloo, the place will smell more like me.

My ambles across campus to work are guided by whiffs of crisp fall air punctuated by the wet dog smell of the high bush cranberries. The volatiles from fall colors might be attributable to the ester methyl salicylate (we have a lot of birches around here) and the smell of leaves on the ground might be attributable to the alochol cis 3-hexen-1-ol. The odor is pleasing to me and a blend of many things. The cranberries, however, I do not like. They smell like a milder version of isovaleric acid: a substance that some people can smell and others can’t.  We did an experiment on UAF Open Research Day in our lab. We used androstenone and isovaleric acid, among others. For those of us who are anhedonic smellers of both substances, it was a rough day. The isovaleric acid was so strong, we had to ventilate the lab for a day. Since I stored some personal belongings in my office over the summer my office greeted me with the scent of Indian spices–soon to be deployed in the cabin!

Last night, I went to the campus pub to hear a 10-piece Latin orchestra featuring (among others) my colleague Dr. Mark Sicoli. My favorite tune was Ran Kan Kan by the late timbale king, Tito Puento. The pub has it’s own characteristic smell mixed stale beers (more here on the volatile differences between fresh v. stale beer) wedded to the carpet and maybe a low note of nachos? There weren’t many dancers out (hopefully that will change since there aren’t many opportunities to dance to a live Latin band!!) but I danced with a few men. One Cuban, the finest Latin dancers in my book, had a scent I couldn’t place. I think there was some cologne that had highnotes like raisins and spice and maybe a lingering scent of cigars (a flavour I adore in red wine) in his coat. The smell of raisins is partly attributable to autoxidated fatty acids. Cigars are so complex because of their varied composition: a great exposition of cigars and their scents is here. Aside from the moves, a great thing about dancing with Latin men is not smelling their sweat because they often wear cologne (unlike a lot of non-Latin dancers who, after a few fast-beat extended salsa mixes, smell more like androstenone and isovaleric acid!). Here’s to more nights with Candela at the pub!

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