Egon Peter Köster
(1931 - 2022)
ECRO Honorary Member
University of Utrecht
ECRO mourns the loss of its honorary member EP Köster
It is with great sadness that we have to inform the ECRO community about the passing of our member and dear friend Egon Peter (EP) Köster. EP was a Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Utrecht between 1976 and 1997 and his primary research focused on perception psychology with a strong emphasis on smell sensation. EP Köster was the founder and long-time Editor in Chief of the Journal Chemical Senses and a co-founding member of ECRO, of which he is an Honorary Member.
Apart from fundamental science he also pursued interests in applied research. He founded the ergonomics research group at the University of Utrecht but also started a group on the sensory analysis and evaluation of food. For his outstanding contributions to these fields, he became an advisor to major food industries in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Great Britain and the United States.
Commemorating the loss of Professor Egon Peter Köster
I am very sad in announcing to the ECRO community that on August 18th Professor Egon Peter Köster has passed away.
This is a tragic event since we lost one of the most outstanding and leading scholars in the field of the Chemosensory studies.
Egon (for the most intimate friends, just Ep) was Emeritus Professor at the Helmholtz Institute of the University of Utrecht, where he taught Experimental Psychology from 1976 to 1997 and founded a research group for the study of sensory analysis and evaluation of food qualities. He was a clever, productive, and eclectic scientist with his interests ranging from psychophysics, cognitive neuropsychology, behavioral neuroscience, learning and memory to consumer science and food choices. He was author of remarkable papers on the sense of smell. Particularly relevant, among the others, the earliest on sensory adaptation, retronasal perception, odour mixtures, tools for human psychophysical experiments and taste water quality; most recent those on the influence of odors on human performance, implicit odour memory and incidental unattended odor perception, stimulus properties (like novelty and complexity), as well as those on body odors and gender differences in perception, and on the impact of odorants on emotion and mood and how they can unconsciously alter cognition and behaviour.
It is also worthwhile to be mentioned that Professor Köster, was, together with Howard Moskowitz, one of the founding editors of Chemical Senses, which was firstly established as Chemical Senses and Flavor in 1974, and only later, in 1980, changed the former name to the actual.
Like the father of Cognitive Psychology Ulrich Neisser who, in the seventies, pointed out the distance between research and reality, in the last time of his life, Ep’s main interest was devoted to stress the need of a more ecological validity for experimental research in olfaction, to reduce the split between research outcomes and actual functioning of olfaction in daily life. Accordingly, to a small group of his friend (Jos Mojet, Per Moller, Benoist Schaal and myself) he proposed to jointly write an extensive review on this topic. This was done and the manuscript is now ready, but not yet published. This is a pity, not for the vacuous importance of one more publication, rather because Ep did not have the chance to see his scientific legacy.
But, far from these formal notes, he was for me and for some other colleagues and friends of my generation,
a mentor, a guide and a close friend. Ep was always available and kind towards friends and others, and his enthusiasm for life and work was contagious. I did not expect this tragic event to occur now, although several times in the last few years Ep had the sensation that his life was close to end.
I will keep in my mind several images of Ep as a generous, lively, and enthusiastic person, together with emotional and scientific remembrances: the histories of his adolescence and youth, our meetings and letters and Christmas cards, our endless discussions on the existence or not of olfactory representation.
Rest in peace dear Ep, I will miss you so much.
Gesualdo (Aldo) Zucco
Ep Köster (1931 – 2022)
It is with profound sadness we inform you of the passing of Prof E.P. Köster (Emeritus Professor) who was Professor of Fundamental and Applied Research of the Chemical Senses (1971-1993) and of the Psychology of Food Behavior (1993-1996) at Utrecht University. Prof. Köster, better known as “Ep” lay the foundation of human chemical senses research in the Netherlands and beyond. He was also one of the founders of ECRO in 1970, where he has been bestowed with a honorary membership.
Here is a small history lesson about our organisation:
In 1970, Ep Köster participated in initial discussions (together with Professors Jacques Le Magnen, Patrick Mac Leod, Kjell Doving and Dr Muus Beets) on creating an organization to promote research in olfaction and taste.
Ep was one of the 34 founding members of ECRO (constitutive assembly held at Woudschoten, Zeiss, Netherland, August 25th 1970):
Because of his substantial role as founder of research into the psychology of taste and smell in the Netherlands, we, as members of the NOSE (the Netherlands Olfactory Science Exchange: https://www.nosenetwork.nl/) organised a special session at the 2019 meeting of the Dutch Society Of Brain And Cognition (NVP) to honour Ep's contribution to olfactory science. At this meeting he received an “olfactory” award: a perfume specially designed for him by perfumer and neuroscientist, Spyros Drosopoulos. The perfume was inspired by Ep’s work, his personality and some of the olfactory notes he used in his work. It was the first-ever award that can only be appreciated through the sense of smell, and the audience attending the session shared the pleasure of sniffing this delightful award that was dispersed across the room.
We remember the first words of Ep in his acceptance speech: 'Ha ha ha ha ha ha!' Ep referred to the fact that some of his colleagues in Experimental Psychology had laughed at him when he - it must have been in the 1970's - announced that he would devote his perception research to the sense of olfaction, not taking him very seriously. However, Ep would continue to become an authority in the field and win worldwide recognition for his work on the sense of smell and beyond.
"Now it is my turn to laugh at THEM."
This story highlights two of Ep's characteristics: a sense of humour, and a perseverance in an area he believed in. Many of us can relate to Ep's sense of humour, sometimes difficult to follow, but always making you smile and think.
Besides olfaction, Ep has contributed to the fields of sensory analysis and food consumer science. He always favoured a strict scientific and methodological approach. Many a study was dismissed by him on grounds of methodological weakness or scientific 'nonsense'. His work with Per Møller and Jos Mojet on the "Misfit" Theory of Spontaneous Conscious Odour Perception (MITSCOP) highlights the importance of ecological validity. Ep believed scientific studies should be about something real, i.e. they should address (everyday) behaviour. Ep used to refer to himself as a 'Gibsonian'. Telling too is Ep's statement that "Fundamental research is difficult, but applied research is much more difficult". Yet another observation from Ep reflects his unrelenting critical attitude towards most ongoing consumer research: "In the old days, some 65% of new food products failed on the market, then the market researchers arrived on the scene - and now it is 85%." A bit exaggerated perhaps, but it clearly highlights his view on consumer food research. His 2003 paper on "The psychology of food choice: Some often encountered fallacies" is a very well cited paper. Ep started displaying his critical attitude of traditional consumer research long before the now-dominant view that many food choices happen automatically and are not easily accessible to conscious elaboration by consumers themselves. Everybody who has ever had a scientific chat with Ep knows how he used to emphasise implicit processes and the unconscious nature of most olfactory perception. In sum, all this renders olfactory and food choice research difficult as well as expensive. 'Good research is expensive, but cheap research even more so.' another great motto from Ep, referring to the fact that it is not uncommon that million-dollar decisions are based on cheap, debatable research.
Besides being a remarkable and visionary scientist, Ep was a brilliant lecturer, who was able to completely captivate his audience and is still remembered by many of his former students for this.
Ep laid the foundations for an applied psychology of smell and taste and in doing so he left a legacy. He has inspired many scientists to embark on a career in these areas. They, and their students again, will continue to reap the fruits of Ep's vision, for decades to come.
We remember him fondly,
On behalf of NOSE (Netherlands Olfactory Science Exchange),
Monique Smeets, Caro Verbeek, Garmt Dijksterhuis
Many thanks to Didier Trotier and Annick Faurion for their contribution on Ecro’s foundation history