Unraveling the Mathematics of Smell

Mathpresso, A Math Blog

Scientists have created a “map” of odor molecules, which could ultimately be used to predict new scent combinations

The human nose finds it simple to distinguish the aroma of fresh coffee from the stink of rotten eggs, but the underlying biochemistry is complicated. Researchers have now created an olfactory “map”—a geometric model of how molecules combine to produce various scents. This map could inspire a way to predict how people might perceive certain odor combinations and help to drive the development of new fragrances, scientists say.

Researchers have been trying for years to tame the elaborate landscape of odor molecules. Neuroscientists want to better understand how we process scents; perfume and food manufacturers want better ways to synthesize familiar aromas for their products. The new approach may appeal to both camps.

One earlier strategy for mapping the olfactory system involves grouping…

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