The Wasabi Fire Alarm

If you happen to be deaf and you live in Japan, you’re in luck. Now there’s a fire alarm that can even wake those whose hearing is impaired. A research team has come up with a wasabi fire alarm. If you’ve ever put too much of the pungent paste on a sushi roll, you know that it sets off alarm bells on your tongue. It’s hard to ignore the eye-watering burn of wasabi, so researchers decided to use that to their advantage. They isolated the compound in wasabi responsible for the stinging sensation — allyl isothiocyanate. It’s not an odor. The nervous system perceives it as a painful, stinging feeling, and it’s one that will persist even in sleep. Tests showed that subjects were immediately awakened upon inhaling air-diluted wasabi. Of the 14 test subjects — including four who were deaf — 13 woke within two minutes. It turned out that the 14th person had a blocked nose. A study group of 100 subjects had equally as successful results. Right now, the Odor Generation Alarm runs about $600, so researchers are working on a less expensive model to release into the market.