What happens when a billionaire and a renowned perfumer come together? Not a poop perfume. Or so you’d think.

But then that’s what happened when Bill Gates and the 120-year-old family owned, Geneva-based fragrance company Firmenich joined hands to deal with sanitation woes of the world.

Numbers tell the story: one billion people have no access to toilets. Three billion, have toilets, but the waste is not treated, leading to contamination of water and food.

Sanitation is an enormous problem in some of the countries around the world. Including India. Especially in India.

It is no secret that people defecate in the open in this country. It is also known that even though toilets are being built around the country, over time, these toilets are shunned by the people, especially the pit latrines in rural areas.

You cannot blame them. How would you feel if you have to begin your day with the most disgusting smell in the world? A cloying odor, clinging to your body and brain for the rest of the day until you have to encounter it all over again the next day. That’s like dying a little every day.

Poop smells. Toilet stinks. Therein lies a significant part of world’s sanitation problem.

Now, the folks at Firmenich thought: what if we could do something about the bad smell, then maybe we could get people to use the latrines? To do that,F they should first know why toilets smell so bad. They set out to find an answer.

They discovered that toilet odor consists of 200 different chemical compounds.

Their next task was to isolate the main culprits – which of the 200 compounds causes the terrible odor? The scientists found four:  indole, p-cresol, dimethyl trisulfide, and butyric acid.

Now, what?

To find a solution to a problem, you need to get to know the problem up close and personal. SoA, Firmenich got their scientists to get ‘up close’ to the problem; they asked the scientists to  recreate the ‘latrine odor.’

The scientists delivered. Using synthetic compounds, they created samples of poop perfume – which smelled…well just like poop and urine.

But Firmenich wanted to make sure that the poop perfume had the authentic smell. They wanted to get the odor right. So they urged some kind people in India, Africa, and Switzerland to choose the fragrance that rightly mimicked a stinky toilet. They zeroed in on the right poop perfume.

Now, what?

Human nose has 350 olfactory receptors that can smell anything from roses to poop. However, out of all these receptors, only a few can smell offensive odors.

Firmench thought, why not create a fragrance that will block these receptors (think noise-cancelling headphones; works on the same principle). When you jam the receptors, there’s no signal being sent to the brain and the latter cannot perceive the bad odors, thereby, in this case, rendering humans unable to smell the stinky toilet.

Bill Gates taking a whiff of latrine odors

Firmenich scientists went on to create odor-blocking fragrances. Or should I say, say anti-poop perfume? And apparently, it has a pleasant floral scent.

Now the question arose: Should the fragrance be used as a spray, powder or something else? But whatever the form it should be affordable and easy-to-use. To make the right decision, Firmenich is launching pilot projects in India and Africa to discover what will work.

Nothing is more exciting than when people use technology and innovate to make a difference in the lives of ordinary people.

On an aside, when Bill Gates was made to smell the poop perfume (“whiff of pit latrine odor) at Firmenich, this is how he described the odor (warning: avoid reading further  you are a lover of Parmesan cheese): “What I inhaled was a strong kick to the nostrils, a potent combination of sewage stink, barnyard sweat, and bitter ammonia topped off with vomit or was it Parmesan cheese. The stench made me wince.”

No matter how revolting the subject of sanitation is, it is heartening to know that maybe there’s a way to finally get people to relieve themselves in a toilet without dying a hundred deaths

Source: info & pics gatesnotes.com