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Wasabi Fire Detection

Don’t like the smell of wasabi? Us either, and Japanese research teams have used this to their advantage by making wasabi-smelling fire alarms.

Death By Fire

Around 50% of people killed in building fires are asleep, deaf or elderly, often due to them not hearing the alarm.

Wasabi to the Rescue

Wasabi is a spicy green horseradish native to Japan, often found in sushi, and smells pungent. A Japanese research team, led by Makoto Imai in collaboration with Seems, used this acrid smell to their advantage and created a fire alarm that sprays out synthesized wasabi scent to wake those asleep during a conventional fire alarm.

They did this by isolating the compound found in wasabi that is responsible for the characteristic stinging sensation, allyl isothiocyanate. Interestingly, this isn’t classed as an odor, rather a somatosensation – a collection of senses making our nervous systems perceive it as a stinging feeling. Why is this important? Somatosensory processing continues even during sleep, causing people to wake up after inhalation of air-diluted wasabi. 

The Test

To test the invention, the research team filled canisters of the compound and filled the room once test subjects were asleep. Of 14 subjects (4 of which deaf), 13 woke within 2 minutes. They then tested over 100 more odors, with wasabi coming up top.

Award Winning

The invention has this year won an Ig Nobel prize – an award by science humour magazine Improbable Research which spoofs the Nobel Prize. 

Who knew that wasabi could be so useful? If you’re not a fan of a wasabi fire alarm, we’ve got a range of warning devices for the deaf and hard of hearing, helping to keep everyone safe.