Tagged: National Academy of Sciences

What’s that smell?

By Kimberly Clark, Science Tuesday Editor

Nose close-up

Sniff sniff. Studies say people can’t actually smell olfactory white unless it’s manufactured for them in a lab / PHOTO VIA alscenter.org

The combination of many different frequencies of sound results in that neutral wash of noise known as white noise.

So what do you think will happen if you combine many different compounds of smells?

Take a guess. Trust me, it’s not a trick question.

If you guessed white smell, gold stars for you.

Scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel have discovered a new smell called olfactory white, which is considered to be the nasal equivalent to white noise, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Most smells in the natural world are made up of a mixture of compounds. We can easily identify certain mixtures of compounds that constitute smells, but we cannot identify the individual compounds.

For example, that delicious aroma wafting from the nearby Starbucks is definitely coffee, but what makes up the actual smell of coffee?

Don’t try to answer that.

During the study, participants sniffed hundreds of equally mixed smells and compared them. The number of compounds making up each of the smells ranged from one to 43.

The participants identified smells made up of many compounds as smelling more similar to one another, even if the smells did not share any of the same compounds, than smells made up of less.

The scientists concluded that it is not the type of compounds making up olfactory white, but the mix of many compounds that make it a distinct smell. The compounds making up olfactory white have to be equally intense and must encompass the entire range of human smells.

Neat stuff, right? But as fascinating as I’m sure that was for all of you, I know what you’re really wondering.

What does olfactory white smell like?

The participants ranked the smell of olfactory white right in the middle on the scale for pleasantness and edibility. This description is all that we have to work with because unfortunately the only place to experience olfactory white is in a laboratory.

I guess we will have to keep wondering what olfactory white actually smells like.