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Luca Turin: The science of scent

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Jeffrey Soreff November 8 2008

The explanation of the mechanism of smell seems somewhat implausible, but, yes, there are a variety of ways one could make a nanoscale IR spectrometer. Another option would be to look for resonant energy transfer, not between a tunnelling electron, but between a vibrational excitation in another molecule and the test molecule.

One skeptical note: I’ve handled heavy water, and never noticed an odor. If this theory is right, it should smell very different from the odorless background of normal water.

One application note: If the theory is right, there should be a huge range of deuterated compounds with distinct smells… and there would be a wide choice of very safe ones.
Tom Kraemer November 7 2008

What a wonderful explanation of scent and our sense of smell. Thank you for a profound insight. You’ve changed my understanding of my formerly least appreciated sense!
Rylan Grayston November 7 2008

I think some homeopathic practitioners are running into a very similar situation as you.
In that they get results that they cannot fully explain the workings of.

In the past I often found myself scoffing at the explanations I have heard. The use of words like energy flow to describe how a massage works has been
hard for me to respond too. I have discovered that when some one makes no scene at all they are often using a hole different set of definitions than I know of. For example my dictionary has 6 distinct definitions for plasma. How may dose yours have and which are you using?

Your story is a great example of how
-some one with an explanation that seems obvious and correct with no results
is of no more value than
-someone with concrete results that support a seemingly ridiculous explanation.

Its very entertaining to hear the later come together.
Thanks for explaining how the hard evidence implies that the human body can detect molecular vibration and interpret it as smell.

ps I laughed at the biologist vs physicist joke e mediately, common tedsters lighten up
that was elegantly place hummor!


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About this talk

http://www.ted.com What’s the science behind a sublime perfume? With charm and precision, biophysicist Luca Turin explains the molecular makeup — and the art — of a scent.


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