Exploring the Taste-Smell Connection Through Champagne

On Saturday, June 11th, Cynthia, Lauren, Sam, and I took a day trip to Reims, the unofficial capital of the Champagne wine-growing region. We left first thing in the morning for the 45-minute high-speed train ride out through the countryside to make the most of our day away. We started off getting breakfast at a local café on what appeared to be the main street of the city. After, we had our first champagne tasting. Personally, I do not like to drink but was excited to take a sip of each for the experience of tasting France’s finest! After this tasting, we walked around the city and grabbed lunch before our second tasting. While walking, we saw Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Reims and Basilique Saint-Remi. Both beautiful. Our last stop of the day was the Pommery house where we toured the cellars and learned about how champagne is made and stored.

A picture taken from inside the Pommery cellars showing some of the millions of bottles of champagne stored there

At our second tasting, the staff was asking us to pay close attention to the taste and flavors. We also smelt every champagne before testing. We learned that the proper way to drink champagne is to inhale through your nose while taking a small sip to get the most of the flavors. This trip was right after we reviewed the article on covid and olfaction, so it made me think about the connection between olfaction and taste.

Me at one of our champagne tastings

In the article we discussed in class, we learned that covid-19 could cause anosmia, loss of sense of smell, due to damage to sustentacular cells (Bryche et al., 2020). However, studies have shown that in addition to losing the sense of smell, people also lose their ability to taste (Parma et al., 2020). While many individuals regain their ability to smell and taste after having covid, some have these abilities return in an unpleasant way, by developing parosmia. Parosmia is a type of olfactory dysfunction that causes distorted smell and taste. Patients with parosmia will describe food as tasting/smelling like sewage and other unpleasant descriptors (Walker et al., 2022). I found this disorder fascinating to learn about since damage to olfactory cells causes abnormalities in taste, illustrating that these two sensory systems are connected.

Something I hope to do in my career as a scientist, and hopefully physician, is to use a big picture approach. To understand that so many systems are connected and need to be explored together to be fully understood. I felt that I did just that in this experience.


Bryche, B., St Albin, A., Murri, S., Lacôte, S., Pulido, C., Ar Gouilh, M., Lesellier, S., Servat, A., Wasniewski, M., Picard-Meyer, E., Monchatre-Leroy, E., Volmer, R., Rampin, O., Le Goffic, R., Marianneau, P., & Meunier, N. (2020). Massive transient damage of the olfactory epithelium associated with infection of sustentacular cells by SARS-CoV-2 in golden Syrian hamsters. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 89(July), 579–586. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2020.06.032

Parma, V., Ohla, K., Veldhuizen, M. G., Niv, M. Y., Kelly, C. E., Bakke, A. J., Cooper, K. W., Bouysset, C., Pirastu, N., Dibattista, M., Kaur, R., Liuzza, M. T., Pepino, M. Y., Schöpf, V., Pereda-Loth, V., Olsson, S. B., Gerkin, R. C., Rohlfs Domínguez, P., Albayay, J., … Restrepo, D. (2020). More than smell – COVID-19 is associated with severe impairment of smell, taste, and chemesthesis. Chemical Senses, 45(7), 609–622. https://doi.org/10.1093/chemse/bjaa041

Walker, A., Kelly, C., Pottinger, G., & Hopkins, C. (2022). Parosmia-a common consequence of covid-19. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 377, e069860. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj-2021-069860

NBB 201 as a Museum: Visiting Musee de l’Homme

Skulls of a Homo erectus and Homo ergaster.

On Monday, June 13th, the class took a visit to Musee de l’Homme, an anthropology museum. This museum focused on what makes humans unique from other species and how we evolved. There was a display showing brains of different species emphasizing the size differences. One of the brains on display was rhesus macaques, the type of monkey I work with in my lab. Even though I have worked with the monkeys and seen how small their heads are, I didn’t realize how small their brains are because on my computer they look so big! Something else I really enjoyed about the museum is how much of hominin evolution was familiar to me from NBB 201. For example, pictured in this post are skulls of a Homo erectus and Homo ergaster, both species I learned about. It was really nice to actually see what I have learned.

Visiting the Mona Lisa

On Saturday, June 4th, myself and some other students visited the Louvre. Before coming to Paris, there were a few places I heard of or was told I had to see. The Louvre was one of them. Knowing that I was going to be able to see very few exhibits in my few hours there, the Mona Lisa was a must-see for me.

A photo I took of the Mona Lisa close enough to see the glass that saved her from the recent cake incident!  

There is quite a bit of literature explaining that art has positive impacts on mental health. While I can definitely see how this would be true, I found the museum overwhelming and anxiety-inducing due to the crowds. Maybe the word has gotten out about the neurological benefits of art and people can’t wait to go! Or maybe it was just a busy Saturday. I’ll let you decide which explanation to believe.

Eiffel Tower – Work of Art or Eyesore?

On Wednesday, June 1st, a group of students took advantage of having no major assignments due the next day and spent the evening at the Eiffel Tower. All walking towards the tower from different directions due to the locations of our various metro stops, we met under the center of the tower which we quickly learned was not the ideal location. We relocated to the lawn where we found an open area of grass to have our picnic. I enjoyed my caramel crepe while others were feasting on bread and cheese. Little did we know that we had the best photographer among us (Jacob) who gave us a little spontaneous photoshoot gifting us the ability to remember all the fun we had that night.

Photo by Jacob of me with Cynthia, Sam, and Lauren in front of the Eiffel Tower.

On our first day in Paris we did a boat tour as a class and when we passed the Eiffel tower our guide shared some interesting history about it. The tower’s construction was complete in 1889 in time for the World’s Fair and was not meant to be a permanent structure. When it was first built, Parisians were quite critical of the tower claiming that it was an eyesore and did not fit in with the city. However, despite this opinion of the locals, the Eiffel Tower has become one of the most famous landmarks and is the staple of the city.

This got me thinking about the neuroscience behind the perception of beauty. In previous classes, I have learned about perception of beauty in faces/people and the brain regions involved in that but did not know much about how this applied to objects such as buildings or art. In searching the literature, I was introduced to the field of neuroaesthetics (Iigaya et al., 2020). Neuroaesthetics explores the neural basis for judging art, of which architecture and monuments fall under. Early studies found that the brain regions involved in viewing pleasant aesthetics were also involved in reward pathways. This suggests that looking at an aesthetically pleasing work of art elicits a similar response to other rewarding stimuli. They also explained that assigning aesthetic value is done by breaking a stimulus down into elementary features to be processed. This is a concept I am familiar with from NBB 301 when we discussed sensory processing.

Eiffel Tower lit up as the sun is setting.

In my very unprofessional opinion, I thought the Eiffel Tower was pretty when it was lit up, but during the day it was more exciting due to its significance rather than its beauty.


Iigaya, K., O’Doherty, J. P., & Starr, G. G. (2020). Progress and Promise in Neuroaesthetics. Neuron, 108(4), 594–596. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2020.10.022

Writing a Paper from the Luxembourg Gardens (Photo Post)

A photo of the Luxembourg Palace from the garden.

On Monday, June 6th, the day before our third paper was due, I went to the Luxembourg Gardens to finish up my paper. This was my first time in the gardens and wow was it beautiful! Before coming to Paris, I knew France had a lot of castles but I didn’t expect them to be in the heart of the city. It was amazing to be able to take the metro a few stops away from accent and be at a castle with gorgeous gardens. While sitting there writing my paper surrounded by the greenery, hearing the calming sound of the fountain, and feeling the beams of the sun on my face, I felt a sense of relief from the anxiety I had surrounding this paper. It was very cool to feel the first-hand impacts that nature has on stress relief (Tyrväinen et al., 2014).

Tyrväinen, L., Ojala, A., Korpela, K., Lanki, T., Tsunetsugu, Y., & Kagawa, T. (2014). The influence of urban green environments on stress relief measures: A field experiment. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 38, 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2013.12.005

Galleries Lafayette – Photo Post 

On Saturday, May 28th, Lauren, Sam, and I visited Galleries Lafayette in the 9th district. Galleries Lafayette is a mall-sized department store with endless brands and multiple cafes, restaurants, and bars. We weren’t there for a long time as we quickly learned that it contained mostly high-end brands, but it was definitely an experience. We went for a nice dinner followed by more shopping that was better suited for us.

Inside of Galleries Lafayette.

Personally, shopping has never been a fun activity for me. In fact, it is quite stressful. However, most people find shopping relaxing and joyful, leading to the development of the concept of retail therapy which is supported by science. So next time you want to go shopping and someone tells you not to, remind them that shopping can be good for the brain.

Stairway to the Basilica

On Saturday, May 21st, Lauren, Sam, and I visited Sacré-Cœur Basilica, known in English as Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The Basilica is located in the 18th district, an easy walk from our apartments. We walked over stopping for some delicious ice cream along the way. When we got to the Basilica, I did not realize it was located on the summit of the butte Montmartre, which is the highest point in the city. While this created a very picturesque scene, it also meant a lot of stairs to get up. Taking a couple of breaks along the way, we made our way to the top and were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the city. We then entered the Basilica to take in its beauty and learn about its history.

Lauren, Sam, and I outside of the Basilica with the view of the city behind us.

The Basilica’s construction was complete in 1914 and it was consecrated in 1919. It is a Roman Catholic church that is considered both a political and cultural monument. On the inside, the walls and ceiling are covered in paintings and stained glass windows. There are also exhibits highlighting key figures in their history. Although I am Jewish and did not recognize many of the figures or understand their traditions, I could appreciate the beauty and significance of the Basilica to those who connect with it.

The Basilica from maybe a third of the way up the stairs.

When thinking about how to connect this visit with class content, I was curious if there was literature on the neuroscience of religion. I found a review examining religion, spirituality, and their neurobiological correlates (Rim et al., 2019). The review pulled from studies where individuals with different opinions on the importance of religion/spirituality and different levels of engagement in religious/spiritual behaviors were studied using EEG, fMRI, and sMRI to explore neural correlates.

One study in the review that stood out to me was where fMRIs were done while praying (Schjødt et al., 2008). They found that there was increased activation in the caudate nucleus during religious recitals compared to secular recitals. With this finding, the researchers were able to support their hypothesis that repetitive engagement in religious prayer can stimulate the dopaminergic reward pathway. As someone who grew up in a religious environment but never felt spiritually connected, I found this very interesting and it helped me understand why others can feel so connected to religion and prayer while I might not.

Overall, I enjoyed the beauty of the Basilica both inside and out and found it fascinating to explore the neuroscience of religion.


Rim, J. I., Ojeda, J. C., Svob, C., Kayser, J., Drews, E., Kim, Y., Tenke, C. E., Skipper, J., & Weissman, M. M. (2019). Current Understanding of Religion, Spirituality, and Their Neurobiological Correlates. Harvard review of psychiatry27(5), 303–316. https://doi.org/10.1097/HRP.0000000000000232\

Schjødt, U., Stødkilde-Jørgensen, H., Geertz, A. W., & Roepstorff, A. (2008). Rewarding prayers. Neuroscience Letters, 443(3), 165–168. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2008.07.068

A Day Trip To Versailles

On Sunday, May 22nd, Cynthia, Lauren, Sam, and I visited the Palace of Versailles, a little over an hour outside Paris. The palace served as a home for royals from the early 1600s until the French Revolution. The most notable residents were King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, the last royals before the Revolution. They spent large amounts of money on themselves and their residence while the people of France were in economic crisis, contributing to their unpopularity among the people and fueling anger towards the monarch.


On our visit, we were unable to enter the palace so we toured the gardens instead. While we were disappointed to not see the palace, the acres upon acres of gardens kept us busy. We were also fortunate enough to see some of the fountains in action! After walking around and enjoying the greenery, we got dinner in the area and took the train home.

One of the many fountains of the gardens.


While walking through the gardens, a topic we continuously discussed was what was the purpose of this? We understood it was a home for the royals but why was it necessary to build such extravagant gardens? Was it for the king to show off his wealth? Did he build it simply because he could? This got me thinking about the neuroscience behind wealth, status, and dominance.

A review of the neuroscience of social class (Varnum & Kitayama, 2017), explains a number of differences in those of high versus low socio-economic status (SES). One difference they mentioned was threat sensitivity. Those of lower SES had higher vigilance to threats. This was seen behaviorally and biologically. From the neurobiology perspective, studies found that those of a lower SES had greater amygdala activation when shown an angry face. There was no difference in amygdala activation when shown a neutral face. They also saw greater reactivity in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) in those from lower SES when given negative social feedback. From this, it is seen that the increased threat sensitivity of those from a lower SES extends to both physical and social threats.


A picture of myself in the gardens with the castle visible in the distance (it is a lot bigger than what the picture shows).

Being monarchs, it feels safe to say that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were of high SES. As such, based on the above research, it can be inferred that they had decreased threat sensitivity. I thought this was interesting as they were the royals who fell during the revolution. Did the neurobiological effects of their high status make them oblivious to the threat their actions posed to themselves?


Varnum, M. E., & Kitayama, S. (2017). The neuroscience of social class. Current Opinion in Psychology, 18, 147–151. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.07.032