Nature, exerting an unwearied power/ Forms, opens, and gives scent to every flower.”

My sister Katie sent me this video of Luca Turin on Tuesday, and I’ve since been sucked into the Youtube Vortex and revisiting my undergraduate thesis work on olfaction. Luca Turin is arguably the world’s greatest sniffer and one of my olfaction idols. He is the leading proponent of the vibration theory of olfaction – most of the olfaction community buys the opposing theory, the shape theory of olfaction. Here is my overview: Most biological systems, like the immune and digestive systems, operate by recognizing the shape of molecules, like a lock that’s only opened with the right key. For example, when you eat watermelon (YUM!), your body breaks down the watermelon mush by recognizing the shape of individual molecules. By inductive reasoning, you would think the nose works the same way. But mirror image molecules (stereo-isomers) often smell different. For example R-carvone smells like spearmint and its enantiomer S-carvone smells like caraway. So Turin believes olfaction is the result of a spectroscope built into the nose, i.e., he thinks that to smell, the nose detects electron vibrations. If he’s right, he could save the perfume industry millions of dollars by being able to predict how new synthetic molecules will smell. I recommend the book The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr, perfume critic for the NY Times, if you want to read about the last mystery of the senses more in depth. Or read A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman because it’s brilliant.

I’ve always been fascinated with scents and memories, but perfume has been a growing interest of mine for the last year. I like perfume because it seems like the perfect balance of science and artistry, because its so esoteric and hard to obtain, and because it’s the perfect intersection of my interest in scent perception and gardening/flowers.

For Xmas (is it rotten that I’m thinking about presents for myself already??), I’m hoping for some new perfume decants from The Perfumed Court. Here’s my wish list so far:

Le Chevrefeuille – Annick Goutal
Diorissimo – Dior
Apres L’Ondee – Guerlain
Lily Lambert – No. 11

Oh! As a side note, I recently started a new job at a local shop! They sell a limited number of fragrances from the Demeter line. I tried a little bit of Paperback on my wrist on my first day, but it was gross.


1 Response to “Nature, exerting an unwearied power/ Forms, opens, and gives scent to every flower.””

  1. 1 Mickey Bricks November 14, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    COOL ARTICLE……….so many thoughts and business ideas spring to mind. This may well be a very lucrative discovery.

    I have a smell o vision blog at
    and can see the idea of vibration theory having huge implications.

    Thank You for sharing.

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