Jordan Ross: She’s Got a Nose for Science

August 29 - On The Dot
FIRST THOUGHT: What’s That Smell?

“Do you smell that?” I ask my sweetie. He takes one drawn-out inhale and replies, “Smell what?” Having a great sense of smell can be a blessing, a la freshly baked bread, and a curse, like a walk down a New York City sidewalk in July. They say Louis XV and Queen Elizabeth were both big fans of perfume, spritzing it on just about everything. During medieval times, people relied on scented water to help clean their hands, particularly before eating since silverware wasn’t exactly a mainstay. Throughout history, it seems humans have always done everything we can to avoid a ghastly whiff. Today, give yourself a little spritz of your favorite scent to ensure you’re not scaring your customers and colleagues away. Whatever the aroma, you’ll come out smelling like roses!

WOMEN IN NUMBERS: 50 Percent More

Me thinking I’m better at smelling than my beau is substantiated by cold, hard facts. I love when that happens! In a recent scientific study of postmortem brains, the brains of females showed 43 percent more cells and nearly 50 percent more neurons in the area dedicated to smelling and odors than those of males. Guys, while that means we totally know when you smell like your last shower was in 1999, we can also get overwhelmed when you drown yourself in Axe Body Spray. When in doubt, turn to a female friend’s nose for an honest opinion.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Jordan Ross, Graduate Student Studying the Smell of Fear

There’s a reason we know so much about the olfactory receptors in the brain. It’s called science. And some seriously smart ladies have had a hand in advancing some of the most important—and fascinating—scientific breakthroughs. Today’s Woman to Watch is on her way to making that list of groundbreaking female scientists. Her name is Jordan Ross, and though she’s still a college student, she’s got a real nose for scientific discovery.

You may think there’s not much to the science of smell. Things either smell bad, neutral or good, right? But it’s much more complicated than that, especially considering aromas can be powerful memory boosters. For example, you’ve likely had the experience of strolling through a shopping mall and detecting a specific scent that immediately takes you back to a certain place or time in your life or provokes a precise feeling.

It’s such revelations that pushed Jordan to conduct one heck of a smell test. As a graduate student in the department of anatomy and neurobiology at the University of Tennessee, Jordan is examining how the brain makes connections between anxiety and certain odors. Yep, she’s studying the smell of fear. And so far, her findings have been so revelatory that the National Institutes of Health has given Jordan an $87,000 grant to further research this particular area. Thanks to this funding, Jordan will spend two years studying fluctuations connected to fear and odor processing.

She’ll delve deep, investigating how specific events can change the way our bodies process odoriferous info, resulting in the phenomenon of a particular stimulus, like a common scent, creating a negative emotional reaction.

Here’s the really cool thing about Jordan’s research: It could be an instrumental tool in the realm of associative fear learning, helping to ease the panic attacks and PTSD certain patients struggle with.

With a daring sense of purpose and the smarts to back it up, Jordan is certain to make a name for herself in the scientific community. After all, her research is, well, on the nose!


Today’s quote comes from Diane Ackerman, author of A Natural History of the Senses. She said:

“Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains.”

This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.

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