Dr. Stuart Firestein is the Chair of Columbia University's Department of Biological Sciences. His colleagues and he study the vertebrate olfactory receptor neuron as a model for investigating general principles and mechanisms of "signal transduction" — the ways in which chemicals, such as neurotransmitters, hormones, and peptides with membrane receptors, exert their influence in the brain and nervous system. He hypothesizes that the olfactory neuron is uniquely suited for these studies since it is designed specifically for the detection and discrimination of a wide variety of small organic molecules, i.e. odors.
The cause of the so-called "Proustian experience" of recalling a vivid memory through taste is well documented, but its cause continues to confound scientists.
“There are some things that simply disgust us in a very, very instinctive, deep kind of way. And there are other things that we clearly learn to find either good or bad,” says Firestein.