You can see the color white; you can hear white noise. Now, Weizmann Institute researchers show that you can also smell a white odor. Their research findings appear today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The white we see is actually a mixture of light waves of different wavelengths. In a similar manner, the hum we call white noise is made of a combination of assorted sound frequencies. In either case, to be perceived as white, a stimulus must meet two conditions: The mix that produces them must span the range of our perception; and each component must be present at the exact same intensity. Could both of these conditions be met with odors, so as to produce a white smell? That question has remained unanswered, until now, in part due to such technical difficulties as getting the intensities of all the scents to be identical.
A research team in the Neurobiology Department, led by research student Tali Weiss and Dr. Kobi Snitz, both in the group of Prof. Noam Sobel, decided to take up the challenge. They began with 86 different pure scents (each made of a single type of odor molecule) spanning the entire "smell map," diluted them to obtain similar intensities and then created blends. Each blend contained a different mixture of odors from various parts of the smell map. These blends were then presented in pairs to volunteers, who were asked to compare the two scent-blends.
The team discovered that the more odors that were blended together in the paired mixtures, the more the subjects tended to rate them as similar – even though the two shared no common components. Blends that each contained 30 different odors or more were thought to be almost identical.
The researchers then created a number of such odor blends, giving them a nonsense name: Laurax. Once the subjects were exposed to one of the Laurax mixes and became accustomed to the smell, they were exposed to new blends – mixtures they had not previously smelled. They also called some of these new blends "Laurax," but only if those contained 30 or more odors and these encompassed the range of possible smells. In contrast, mixtures made of 20 scents or fewer were not referred to as Laurax. In other words, Laurax was a white smell. In a follow-up experiment, volunteers described it as being neutral – not pleasant, but not unpleasant.
"On the one hand," says Sobel, "The findings expand the concept of 'white' beyond the familiar sight and sound. On the other, they touch on the most basic principles underlying our sense of smell, and these raise some issues with the conventional wisdom on the subject." The most widely accepted view, for instance, describes the sense of smell as a sort of machine that detects odor molecules. But the Weizmann study implies that our smell systems perceive whole scents, rather than the individual odors they comprise.
Weizmann Institute of Science: http://www.weizmann.ac.il
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Claims that Ai Hin was faking pregnancy to get better treatment have been debunked by leading panda expert
The recent release of Susan Greenfields new book and the film Lucy, both of which are dependent on tired misconceptions or dubious theories about the brain, suggest one worrying conclusion: we are running out of myths about the brain. So here are some new ones, to keep things mysterious
These are the siphonophores, some 180 known species of gelatinous strings that can grow to 100 feet long, making them some of the longest critters on the planet. But instead of growing as a single body like virtually every other animal, siphonophores clone themselves thousands of times over into half a dozen different types of specialized cloned bodies, all strung together to work as a team---a very deadly team at that.
Researchers who study memory have had a thrilling couple of years. Some have erased memories in people with electroshock therapy, for example. Others have figured out, in mice, how to create false memories and even turn bad memories into good ones.
Hunting bats don't just listen out for male frogs' mating calls: they can also use echolocation to detect when the frogs inflate their throat sacs
A crèche of 30 dinosaur infants looked over by an older animal shows that even terrible lizards needed a night away from the kids
Families have identifiable collections of microbes that travel with them. It can take just 24 hours for the microbes to take over a new house
When rabbits were domesticated, around 100 regions of their genome changed to make them less fearful, but the variations are not fixed
Scientists never understood what became of the Paleo-Eskimos who once peopled the north. Now they know—and there's new reason to miss them
NOAA whittles down initial list of 66 species to be covered by Endangered Species Act