What makes one smell pleasant and another odious? Is there something in the chemistry of a substance that can serve to predict how we will perceive its smell? Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science and the University of California at Berkeley have now discovered that there is, indeed, such a link, and knowing the molecular structure of a substance can help predict whether we will find its smell heavenly or malodorous.
In sight and hearing, for instance, our perceptions are determined by the physical properties of waves – the length of light waves in sight, and the frequency of sound waves in hearing. But until now, there was no known physical factor that could explain how our brains sense odors. The new study, conducted by Prof. Noam Sobel of the Institute’s Neurobiology Department and his colleagues, represents a first step in understanding the physical laws that underlie our perception of smell. Their results appeared last week in the Journal of Neuroscience.
To identify the general principles by which our sense of smell is organized, the researchers began with a database of 160 different odors that had been ranked by 150 perfume and smell experts according to a set of 146 characteristics (sweetish, smoky, musty, etc.). These data were then analyzed with a statistical program that analyzed the variance in perception among the smell experts. The scientists found that the data fell along an axis that describes the 'pleasantness rating' of the odors – running from 'sweet' and 'flowery' at one end to 'rancid' and 'sickening' at the other. The same distribution along this axis, they discovered to their surprise, closely describes the variation in chemical and physical properties from one substance to another. From this, the researchers found they could build a model to predict, from the molecular structure of a substance, how pleasing its smell would be perceived.
To double check their model, Sobel and his team tested how experimental subjects assessed 50 odors they had never smelled before for pleasantness. They found that the ratings of their test subjects fit closely with the ranking shown by their model. In other words, they were able to predict the level of pleasantness quite well, even for unfamiliar smells. They noted that, although preferences for smells are commonly supposed to be culturally learned, their study showed that the responses of American subjects, Jewish Israelis and Muslim-Arab Israelis all fit the model’s predictions to the same extent. Sobel: 'Our findings show that the way we perceive smells is at least partially hard-wired in the brain. Although there is a certain amount of flexibility, and our life experience certainly influences our perception of smell, a large part of our sense of whether an odor is pleasant or unpleasant is due to a real order in the physical world. Thus, we can now use chemistry to predict the perception of the smells of new substances.'
Yivsam Azgad | EurekAlert!
Black hole spin cranks-up radio volume
15.01.2018 | National Institutes of Natural Sciences
The universe up close
15.01.2018 | Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.
Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...
The oceans are the largest global heat reservoir. As a result of man-made global warming, the temperature in the global climate system increases; around 90% of...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
16.01.2018 | Materials Sciences
16.01.2018 | Materials Sciences
16.01.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering