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AU First in Nation to Debut "Smells of Sustainability" Devices in Classrooms

Sense of Smell

Exciting and realistic scents will soon permeate classrooms at AU

After recently being ranked #3 in the nation for sustainability by Niche.com, AU's Office of Sustainability began exploring new and innovative ways sustainability could be introduced into everyday campus life to help boost the university's ranking to #1. After reviewing nearly twenty pieces of cutting-edge technology, AU has purchased 75 "olfactoscopes", which will be installed in classrooms campus-wide before the end of the semester. Olfactoscopes use low-energy ionized pulses to create the illusion of smell, tapping into a sensory organ that is often missing in classroom instruction.

"For years, we have used technologies such as digital projectors to bring audio and video into the classroom experience. Now, we have the opportunity to grab education by the nose and run with it”, remarked Windy Powers, Technology Specialist in AU's Center for Aroma Awareness.

The first use of the olfactoscopes will be in courses teaching topics including environmental protection, conservation, social justice, and sustainability. Smells will include fresh-cut grass, a pile of compost, and the electrifying scent of a silicon-based photovoltaic panel converting sunlight into electricity.

"Experiencing sustainability via smell without having to leave the classroom is the next frontier in environmental education", says Chris O'Brien, Director of Sustainability, "now you can stop and smell the compost without having to stop the learning process. When was the last time you had an opportunity to smell a solar panel in action? I hear it's reminiscent of a baked potato."

Students were similarly excited to be the first in the nation to use the new technology. “When I was a little girl, my grandfather would shout ‘Got your nose!’ and pretend to remove it from my face and hide it in his hand. He will be thrilled to know that American University is now the one that’s got my nose, and using it to enhance my educational experience”, said senior environmental science major Starr Brainard. “My professor already told us that our class on low-impact agriculture next week will include the authentic scent of ox manure. No one will fall asleep for that lecture!”

April Fools! This story is part of the Office of Sustainability's annual tradition of taking a critical look at the work we do through a humorous lens. There is no such device as an olfactoscope. There are, however, a great number of opportunities to engage with sustainability in the classroom at AU. Read on below for some of our real-life resources.

Students: More than 1,000 courses at American University feature sustainability content, and six of AU's seven schools and colleges contain at least one sustainability-focused degree program, research center, or institute. Students who study sustainability are able to holistically assess global problems, and become effective leaders and change agents for social, environmental, and economic change worldwide. Find a full list of sustainability focused and related courses on the Office of Sustainability's website and make sustainability one of your educational goals next semester.

Faculty: The Office of Sustainability offers an engaging presentation on AU's sustainability initiatives that is available to all classes at American University. Faculty can request a 45-minute or longer presentation by e-mailing sustainability@american.edu with their course name, date and time, and any particular sustainability topics they would like covered. More than 100 faculty have also certified their courses in AU's Green Teaching Program through the Center for Teaching, Research, and Learning.