Thursday, January 08, 2009

Shape-shifting odor molecules

Chemists Promote Theory of "Shape Shifting" Odor Molecules

Perfumers, perfumistas, scent geeks and assorted nose-governed folk have been aware of the shape theory of olfaction for years. Let's say a molecule of orange is square and of a certain size. Theory had it that your nasal receptor site had a square "hole" (for want of a better term) of that size that allowed that square orange molecule to travel up to the brain, where it was analyzed to be orange.

Luca Turin had a different theory, and he postulated that odor molecules vibrated to a different frequency, and it was the receptor site that passed that frequency on to the brain, and thus, we knew an orange was an orange, not to be mixed with apple.

Profs. Kevin Ryan and Stuart Firestein report in the journal "Chemistry and Senses" that they have a third theory, more linked to the shape theory - that molecules shape shift as they are inhaled. To me, it looks like a kind of hybrid between shape theory and Turin's theory - and that's about as far as I can take it, not being a scientist. Intuitively, it makes sense to me, but I'm a perfumer, not a perfumer-psychic, so I'm wondering what others may think of all this?

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