Sniff Map
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Sniff Map

Sniff Map is an interactive visualisation of a city’s smells. Often a mixture of personal experience, history or social trends, smell maps can chart an olfactory layer atop spatial reality.

We show that freely moving mice sniff-synchronize their nose movements during goal-directed odor-guided behavior, a precise cycle-by-cycle lock between movement and sniffing. This synchrony was found during trials and absent during inter-trial intervals.

How to Make a Sniff Map

Whether you’re creating a map of the world’s most delicious street foods or charting regional differences in perfume popularity, smell maps are an excellent way to visualize and share your data.

Depending on the scale of your project, your tools can range from census data and market research to headspace technology and a mass spectrometer. But a successful smell map doesn’t have to be overly complicated.

For instance, I created a “sniff” map that actually incorporated an interactive display and involved thousands of scratch and sniff stickers. The map was a big hit at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery’s You Are Here exhibition.

The aforementioned “sniff” map, which was inspired by Andreas Keller’s work at the Vosshall lab, extrapolates from Vosshall’s “olfactory demography” to show the dominant odor perception framework in each neighbourhood. The best part is that it also lets visitors participate in the smelly fun. It’s an impressive olfactory-themed experience that I think New Yorkers will enjoy.

Creating a Sniff Map

The first step is to decide what smells you want to map. A variety of tools can be used at this stage, from census data to market research and scientific studies to headspace technology and a mass spectrometer.

For example, researchers led by Daniele Quercia and Rossano Schifanella have created a series of “smelly maps” that document the odors of London and Barcelona. These maps show the concentration of auto emissions, such as car exhaust and gasoline, along major roadways and the concentration of nature smells, like flower, grass, and soil, in parks.

A recent project by designer Nicola Twilley called Scratch ‘N Sniff NYC, uses circular coloured stickers to geo-visualise New York City’s shape using data from Andreas Keller’s research on olfactory perception. The exhibition consists of two maps: one showing the city according to a dominant odor perception framework in each neighbourhood, and a crowd-sourced selection of smell biases from visitors.

Sniffing a Sniff Map

A Sniff Map is a type of interactive map that documents smells in cities. Like maps of other types, smell maps can chart a layer of personal experience, history or social trends atop spatial reality.

To visualize sniff-synchronized kinematic structure, we used machine learning methods to parse motion trajectories into sequences of elementary movement motifs (Green, 2011). These motifs were categorized into two types we call investigation (light blue) and approach (orange).

Motif onsets in time and phase were significantly correlated in all motifs. This suggests that kinematic rhythms synchronize selectively to the sniff cycle during olfactory search, rather than just breathing.

Sniffing a Scent Map

Smells are very personal, so it’s not surprising that people can create a map in their heads with scents as location markers. UC Berkeley psychologist Lucia Jacobs conducted an experiment that proved this.

Scent mapping, also known as olfactory mapping, uses a system of coloured dots to convey smells. Kate McLean is an olfactory cartographer and has created smell maps for various cities around the world.

Smell maps are a fascinating way to visualize the city. For example, a map of London reveals emissions smells like auto exhaust and gasoline, marked in red, and nature smells, such as flower and grass, marked in green.