“White smells” are to odors what white noise is to sound

Ars Technica » Scientific Method 2012-11-20

The featureless soundscape known as white noise is effectively as neutral as music can get for humans—too many frequencies are combined in one waveform and the human ear just isn't able to pick any specific detail out. The same thing happens with white light, which contains all the colours of the visual spectrum. Now it seems that it's possible to create "white smells"—that is, smells that don't smell of anything specific.

White noise isn't just a hum in the background—it specifically refers to a kind of frequency spectrum that's completely flat (and Wired.co.uk has previously explored the different "colors" of sound). Every frequency has the same energy, so the noise just kind of melts into an overall hum of nothingness. White smell works on the same principle. Neurobiologists from the Weizmann Institute of Science, led by Tali Weiss, managed to create something they call "Laurax." And there are several different versions of Laurax, each chemically different, but they each smell "white."

Weiss and her team first derived a range of 86 "monomolecular odorants" which covered the effective spectrum of smell. Each one was diluted to the same odor intensity (so no one smell would overpower any other), and then mixed together into a range of batches containing either "one, four, ten, 15, 20, 30, 40, or 43 components." An algorithm worked out how to make sure that the molecules that were mixed into each batch were consistently spread far apart from each other across the smell spectrum so as to ensure there wasn't smell overlap.

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