Bill Gates is on a quest to build a better toilet, says Fast Company's Ben Paynter. In developing countries, 800,000 children die each year from pathogens and diseases associated with unsafe water and poor sanitation. His first step is fixing the odor problem of unsophisticated toilets while figuring out how to solve the larger infrastructure problems related to sanitation.
Gates partnered with Firmenich, a 120-year-old Swiss fragrance and flavor company, to fight odor in a new way.
They’re honing in on exactly which molecules create bad toilet smells, and what smell receptors those trigger. The goal is to design chemical compounds that beat poop stink at its own game, by traveling the same neural pathway to block signals of revulsion (with a nice fruity, floral, or citrus undertone). Gates dives deeper into the exact theory and process in a post on his Gates Notes blog, which coincides with the United Nation’s upcoming World Toilet Day. He compares the tactic to noise canceling head phones: "Electronics in the headsets create a sound wave that is 180 degrees out of phase with the ambient noise that needs to be blocked. This wave cancels unpleasant sounds and allows you to enjoy peace and quiet. Likewise, the ingredients in the fragrances developed by Firmenich inhibit the activation of the olfactory receptors sensitive to malodors. By blocking the receptors, our brains do not perceive the bad smells."
Here's a video about his experience: