The Loh Down On Science

Generic Smells

Mmmmmm … what's that aftershave you're wearing? Is it "Generic"?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.
 
You've heard of white noise--that generic hum when you mix different sound frequencies. And white light, which is mixed wavelengths of light.

Scientists at the Weizmann Institute wondered: can you make a white smell?  Can you combine different odors to make one that's really generic?

To find out, they started with 86 pure scents. These were single molecules with a distinctive smell. Like vanillin, which gives vanilla its yummy-ness.

They diluted each scent to the lowest level they could still smell. That meant all had about equal intensity. Then they started combining scents, in varying numbers. No combo had similar odors, otherwise they might dominate the whole mixture.

When they gave each the sniff test?

Once mixtures contained 30 or more scents, they all smelled about the same.  Eureka! "White" smells!

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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Call it the first floor of Macy’s effect—at least as far as perfume on my arm goes.  I really have to get more decisive!


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