’Quantum smell’: Making Scents of it All
2013-01-28 0:00

By Jason Palmer | BBCNews




A controversial theory that the way we smell involves a quantum physics effect has received a boost, following experiments with human subjects.

It challenges the notion that our sense of smell depends only on the shapes of molecules we sniff in the air.

Instead, it suggests that the molecules’ vibrations are responsible.


A way to test it is with two molecules of the same shape, but with different vibrations. A report in PLOS ONE shows that humans can distinguish the two.

Tantalisingly, the idea hints at quantum effects occurring in biological systems - an idea that is itself driving a new field of science, as the BBC feature article Are birds hijacking quantum physics? points out.

But the theory - first put forward by Luca Turin, now of the Fleming Biomedical Research Sciences Centre in Greece - remains contested and divisive.

The idea that molecules’ shapes are the only link to their smell is well entrenched, but Dr Turin said there were holes in the idea.

He gave the example of molecules that include sulphur and hydrogen atoms bonded together - they may take a wide range of shapes, but all of them smell of rotten eggs.

"If you look from the [traditional] standpoint... it’s really hard to explain," Dr Turin told BBC News.

"If you look from the standpoint of an alternative theory - that what determines the smell of a molecule is the vibrations - the sulphur-hydrogen mystery becomes absolutely clear."



Molecules can be viewed as a collection of atoms on springs, so the atoms can move relative to one another. Energy of just the right frequency - a quantum - can cause the "springs" to vibrate, and in a 1996 paper in Chemical Senses Dr Turin said it was these vibrations that explained smell.

The mechanism, he added, was "inelastic electron tunnelling": in the presence of a specific "smelly" molecule, an electron within a smell receptor in your nose can "jump" - or tunnel - across it and dump a quantum of energy into one of the molecule’s bonds - setting the "spring" vibrating.

But the established smell science community has from the start argued that there is little proof of this.

[...]


Read the full article at: bbc.co.uk




Related Articles
Brain protects sense of smell when blocked


Latest News from our Front Page

An Eye For Odin
2015-05-03 2:03
The Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo helmet is a religious artefact dedicated to Woden the one eyed god of war. Recent research indicates that numerous other archeaological artefacts also provide evidence that one eye on various figures has been deliberately removed as part of a Woden ritual. Read the original essay by Neil Price and Paul Mortimer here: http://www.academia.edu/7925222/ Music: Faunus Amadeus Loki - Strange ...
Ed Miliband: "As a friend of Israel and a Jew, I’m a proud member of this community" & "The Jewish Manifesto"
2015-05-03 2:29
Editor's comment: With just a few days to go to the British election, here are a few tidbits that the English voter might want to know about concerning the leader of the Labour party, Ed Miliband. Labour Leader Ed Miliband on the Board of Deputies' Jewish Manifesto By Ed Miliband, Leader of the Opposition in the UK. (Or should that be the ...
"Sweden is ruled by unelected policy plotters"
2015-05-03 1:16
Editor's Comment: As usual, the power in Sweden is behind the scenes, unelected and weaved into the bureaucracy so that Swedes have no control or influence over what happens in the country. Sweden has long been seen as the epitome of a healthy democracy. But in this week's debate article, three researchers argue that an increase in unelected behind-the-scenes operators is ...
Israel to airlift 25 babies born to surrogates out of Nepal
2015-05-03 1:46
Ya'ari is one of 26 babies airlifted by the Israeli government and brought to Israel to be with their parents after the Nepal earthquake. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)Israel said Sunday it plans to airlift 25 infants from quake-hit Nepal born to surrogate mothers, along with their Israeli parents, most of them homosexual couples. Officials said Israel was sending a military delegation to offer ...
Ed Miliband is a f****** communist, says Noel Gallagher
2015-05-02 3:38
Noel Gallagher has warned Ed Miliband is a 'f******* communist' who will 'fail us all' if Labour wins the election next week. The former Oasis guitarist admitted that he did not plan to vote on Thursday because he could not 'get behind' any of the parties. His foul-mouthed outburst at Mr Miliband is a long way from New Labour's Cool Brittania heyday, ...
More News »