Wearable Technology to Aid in Post-Covid Loss of Smell

Art and Design Professor Yin Yu’s research from STEM-NET Seed grant takes off.

April 11, 2023
Yin Yu
San Diego State University Art and Design Professor, Yin Yu

San Diego State University Art and Design Professor Yin Yu, in collaboration with Dr. Surabhi Bhutani, is designing wearable technology for olfactory, smell training to combat loss of smell after a COVID-19 infection. In a crossover between art and science, the wearable tech will help individuals suffering from loss of smell through olfactory training. 

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I found it hard to explain my experience of wearing masks for air pollution protection to anyone outside China. It was because we did not need to wear masks in general. However, the pandemic changed many aspects of our lives, including the general public’s understanding of wearables as a way to protect our communities,” said Dr. Yu. 

“Three years after the outbreak, more than half of the US population has had COVID, and many cases experienced smell loss. Designing wearable technology for olfactory training seems necessary and understandable to the general public.”

Dr. Yu worked on wearable technology in her Ph.D research, “When I was living in Beijing, between 2014 to 2016, I experienced severe unhealthy air quality, and it had a deep impact on my life. Motivated by such an experience, I wanted to express my concerns through art,” said Yu. 

Yu taught two summer wearable technology courses in 2020 and 2021, and as the pandemic began, the focus shifted.

“It was a natural step for my students to connect our current pandemic-related health issues with wearable technology. We studied different types of human perceptions, such as haptics, aural, taste, vision, and of course, smell,” said Dr. Yu. The collaboration allows the art of wearable technology to enhance smell training for researchers and patients.

Sponsored by the STEM-NET Seed grant, Yu and Bhutani hope the research will support their community and help patients in need. Art and technology has been historically polarized, but Dr. Yu shares how they come together naturally for this project. 

“I believe design should be a multi-sensory experience for human beings. Smell and taste are two very challenging senses in the design fields where the visual component has such a strong presence,” said Dr. Yu. 

Art student Gina Ferguson is working with the researchers on the project. Gina will also work with Dr. Yu as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). 

Dr. Yu hopes to encourage more PSFA students to join the SURP program, and shares how all disciplines are important to innovative research. 

“The most important thing I learned from my interdisciplinary background is that there is no discipline. The world’s problems are very complex; we will be constrained if we try to solve the problems from a single discipline perspective,” said Dr. Yu. “I want to use an inclusive approach to focus on the problems and issues we face today. Finding beautiful research questions is more important to me.”

The impact of this research will make waves in the years to come, and Dr. Yu is grateful for the opportunity to bring this to life. 

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