Sacred Heart University Professor Tolga Kaya asked his students at the beginning of the school year if they ever thought about emailing scents and tastes.
Freshman Nathaniel Barone, 19, said the idea caught the class’s attention. “Well, what do you mean?” was Barone’s reaction. He became fascinated by the concept and was eager to learn more, believing there was basis behind it.
Barone pursued the concept with Kaya outside of class, and they applied for a $500 grant through the College of Arts & Sciences’ Undergraduate Research and Initiative. The duo received the funding and has applied it to research. Barone plans to continue the research in the upcoming years of his college education, with the goal of discovering if the concept is achievable.
Kaya, director of SHU’s computer engineering program, said the idea of emailing smells and tastes came to him about a year ago. As a food enthusiast, he said he not only likes to cook and eat, but he enjoys learning what is happening to food ingredients chemically to produce such a delicious outcome.
“What does baking soda really do?” Kaya asked as an example. “It just made me think.”
The student and professor started their research slowly. First, they secured space on campus where they can tinker and experiment. Testing includes obtaining readings by connecting pH and electric sensors to a Raspberry Pi, a miniaturized, pocket-sized computer that is used in small electronics projects. These sensors react to liquids and solids. Kaya and Barone used their grant money to purchase the equipment.
They have no timeline or real indication of how long it will take to email a smell or taste. Ideally, Barone would like to see that happen by the time he graduates, but with such little information on the topic, he’s just not sure. “It’ll probably take more than five years, but I would love to work on it after I graduate,” he said.
Barone believes if emailing smell and taste is achievable, it would first be used for retail purposes. Consumers would be able to get a whiff of a soap or perfume before they bought it online. He believes restaurants would want to email taste to tout their best menu items. Barone is even hopeful that emailing smell and taste might lead to printing food, which could be a solution to hunger in some countries.
“I want to see if this work can have real-life change,” Barone said. “It’s awesome to know that I might be a part of solving world hunger.”
He has been dedicating eight to 10 hours per week to research while balancing course work and other extracurricular activities like managing the men’s varsity volleyball team. The project “is in the infancy stages,” he said. “We’re doing this on a week by week basis.”
No matter where their research takes them, Kaya and Barone plan to submit an article to SHU Scholar, an e-journal dedicated to the work of undergraduates.