Controlling and measuring dynamic odorant stimuli in the laboratory

J Exp Biol. 2019 Nov 29;222(Pt 23):jeb207787. doi: 10.1242/jeb.207787.


Animals experience complex odorant stimuli that vary widely in composition, intensity and temporal properties. However, stimuli used to study olfaction in the laboratory are much simpler. This mismatch arises from the challenges in measuring and controlling them precisely and accurately. Even simple pulses can have diverse kinetics that depend on their molecular identity. Here, we introduce a model that describes how stimulus kinetics depend on the molecular identity of the odorant and the geometry of the delivery system. We describe methods to deliver dynamic odorant stimuli of several types, including broadly distributed stimuli that reproduce some of the statistics of naturalistic plumes, in a reproducible and precise manner. Finally, we introduce a method to calibrate a photo-ionization detector to any odorant it can detect, using no additional components. Our approaches are affordable and flexible and can be used to advance our understanding of how olfactory neurons encode real-world odor signals.

Keywords: Automation; Calibration; Mass flow controller; Odor control; Olfaction; Photo-ionization detector.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Biological
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Perception*
  • Smell*