Nov 16, 2015 | By Tess

Food gives us nutrients, fills us up, and sustains our various lifestyles, whether we are mountain climbing, waiting tables, or sitting at a desk. More than that, however, food can also give us great pleasure and quite frankly tastes and smells amazing! Scientists and researchers have long been questioning the process of smelling and tasting food, wondering how exactly it is physiologically possible for us to taste and enjoy food without choking on it and now, thanks to the findings conducted on a 3D printed model of a human airway they have the answer.

What initially puzzled scientists about the process of ingesting and smelling food had to do with the fact that we can taste our food because bits of what we are eating are brought into the nasal cavity, and as we know, smell and taste are inextricably connected. Scientists wondered how this movement was possible and why food particles didn’t get carried by airflows to other parts of the body – like the lungs, which could potentially be fatal.

It was a team of researchers from Penn State University that was responsible for finding the answer, and as mentioned, they made the much-anticipated discovery using a 3D printed model of a human airway. The team, which was led by Rui Ni, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, made the model from CT scans of the human airway system, starting from the nostrils and ending at the trachea. Once the model was additively manufactured the Penn State team was able to test airflow through it to figure out how exactly the movement of air and food takes place.

As Rui Ni explains, “During quiet breathing, there is no valve that can control the direction of volatile transport, however, something must be controlling the movement of these particles and keeping them out of the lungs.”

The team’s findings, which were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that Ni was right; there was indeed something responsible for blocking food from being brought into the lungs. That is, by testing on the 3D printed model, the researchers found that while eating, as you breathe in through your nose, an air curtain is created that essentially blocks food volatiles from entering your lungs. When you subsequently breathe out, the same food volatiles are carried into your nasal cavity where they come into contact with olfactory cells which are responsible for allowing you to both smell and taste the flavors of your food.

Partial 3D printed airway from nostril to trachea with structure of the nasal cavity.

Along with this discovery was another that would please anyone who has pleaded for their friends or family to “please, chew your food slowly!” As the speed of breathing directly affects the movement of food particles and volatiles to the nasal cavity, breathing and chewing slowly effectively enhances the flavor and smell of what you are eating. “Smooth, relatively slow breathing maximizes delivery of the particles to the nose. Food smells and tastes better if you take your time,” advises Ni.

It was never a mystery that food could smell or taste wonderful, as we have all enjoyed the subtle and rich flavors of our favorite meals, and now thanks to researchers at Penn State and 3D printing technology we know why and how that is.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive