Inventive sensation as Wasabi Alarm developed to save lives in Japan visits Science Museum

By Culture24 Reporter | 26 March 2012
A photo of a woman holding an alarm and a tray full of sushi
The Wasabi Alarm aims to stimulate the senses© Press Association
When researchers at Japan’s Shiga University of Medical Science were investigating ways to curb the number of deaths caused by sleeping residents failing to be woken by their fire alarms, they tested 100 smells aimed at forcibly rousing people into alertness.

From a list of odours including rotten eggs, the most effective whiff turned out to be wasabi, wafting the active ingredient of allyl isothiocyante up the irritated noses of slumberers who might never have expected to have their lives saved by a humble condiment.

A photo of a woman peering curiously at a long thin white smoke alarm
The innovation could spice up alarms in Japan and beyond© Press Association
“It’s not actually the smell of wasabi, but the stinging sensation it leaves in your nostrils which wakes you up,” clarifies Jessica Bradford, the Content Developer at the Science Museum, where the Wasabi Alarm – available for around £400 in Japan, but with a cheaper model apparently on the way – has gone on display in the Antenna contemporary science gallery.

“Your sense of smell weakens during sleep, but your pain receptors stay active. That’s why, out of hundreds of scents tested, spicy wasabi works best.

“The peppery, mustardy smell may not be to everyone’s taste but if it alerts people in an emergency, then it must be a winner all round. This is a fantastic example of science offering a creative and innovative solution to a real problem.”

The alarm has already been rewarded with the lg Nobel chemistry prize, a spoof on the prestigious award at Harvard University which is designed to “first make people laugh, then think”.
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