Courtesy Kaptain KoboldIt’s amazing how the scientific process works out. I, for instance, have spent many years attempting to test the statement regarding killing two birds with one stone. Progress made towards the main research question (How good, in fact, is killing two birds with one stone? Pretty good?), has been, well, convoluted: more than anything else, I have uncovered obstacles. It turns out that many birds can fly, and that I am very poor at throwing, both factors significantly complicating the stoning process. This sort of things is only to be expected in science, but it means that one problem (at least) must be dealt with before another can be dealt with fully. In my own research, I’m thinking that it might be best to fasten both birds, somehow, to a plank, where a single stone can more easily be applied to each. Then, perhaps, I can see how things are different after they are dead.
Anyhow, the point is, research can take you all kinds of interesting places, and it seems that the work of scientists at Rockefeller University has mirrored my own in this respect.
Like so many other scientists, the Rockefeller researchers are studying flies (approximately sixty-five percent of all science performed today is fly-related). They are interested in how flies navigate by use of smell. Flies, or at least the variety observed at Rockefeller, have two olfactory organs, two noses, essentially, and the scientists are able to genetically modify the bugs so that one, two, or neither of the noses work. When they then observed the way fly larvae move towards a certain controlled smell, they found that one-nosed flies could still sense the source of an odor, but not nearly so well as those flies with two noses. The flies were smelling in stereo.
Stereo smell would be great, I think. Our stereo vision gives us depth perception, and our two ears allow us to pinpoint sounds; with stereo smell there would never again be a question as to who dealt it. Nor would there be if the other product of Rockefeller’s research were marketed: a little something no one is calling Smellovision.
In order to fully understand how the flies were reacting to odors, the scientists needed a way to observe the exact dynamics of the smell, to see how and where it was concentrated at all times. So that’s just what they did – they created a way to see the smells. They developed “a novel spectroscopic technique that exploited infrared light to create environments where they could see, control and precisely quantify the distribution of these smells.” Smellovision. That would also be pretty rad – if you were really stinky, you could look like a cartoon character, with stink lines and green clouds and everything, qualities that I believe we all aspire to.
It’s an inspiring story all around, I think. I mean, there’s no reason for me to get frustrated with my research. Sure, some of the work feels like sidetracking, but maybe it will lead to my discovering a great, efficient new way of killing birds with stones. You just never know!