What Causes the Smell of Things?

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In summary, the ability to smell something is dependent on small particles becoming airborne and interacting with receptors in the nose. These receptors send information to the brain where it is processed and interpreted. Two scientists, Axel and Buck, were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work on the olfactory system, which is explained in detail on the Nobel website.
  • #1
Smelly stuff?

Well what is the cause that something smells. That is what does a substance emit before entering the nasal chamber of our nose that enables us to smell things?? Or does it really emit anything?
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  • #2
Yes, for us to smell something, small particles must become airborne. There are then receptors in the nose that these particles interact with (different types of receptors can interact with different types of airborne chemicals). The information from the numbers and types of receptors that are "triggered" when these chemicals bind to them is then sent to the brain where it is processed and interpreted.

You may or may not know that just a few years ago, two scientists, Axel and Buck, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for their work on the olfactory system. There is a very nice explanation of how the system works, written as a press release for a general audience, on the Nobel website.


I'm certainly not going to attempt to explain it any better than Nobel prize winners who have studied that system. :smile:
  • #3

The smell of things is caused by molecules that are released from the substance and interact with the olfactory receptors in our nose. These molecules are called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and they are responsible for the unique scent of different substances. The specific combination and concentration of VOCs determine the smell of a particular item.

For example, a ripe banana releases a high concentration of ethylene gas, which is responsible for its distinct smell. On the other hand, the smell of freshly cut grass is caused by a combination of compounds called green leaf volatiles.

Interestingly, our sense of smell is closely linked to our emotions and memories. This is because the olfactory receptors are connected to the limbic system, which is responsible for processing emotions and memories. That's why certain smells can trigger strong emotions or bring back vivid memories.

In conclusion, the smell of things is caused by the release of molecules that interact with our olfactory receptors, and this can evoke different emotions and memories. So next time you smell something, remember that it's the result of a complex chemical process that our sense of smell allows us to experience.

1. What causes the smell of things?

The smell of things is caused by molecules in the air that are released from the object. These molecules are detected by our olfactory receptors in the nose, which send signals to the brain, allowing us to perceive different scents.

2. How do different objects have different smells?

Different objects have different smells because they are made up of different types and combinations of molecules. These molecules have unique shapes and sizes, which interact with our olfactory receptors in different ways, resulting in distinct scents.

3. Can the smell of things change over time?

Yes, the smell of things can change over time. This can be due to a variety of factors such as exposure to air, temperature, and chemical reactions. For example, food can spoil and develop a bad smell over time.

4. Why do some smells trigger memories?

Smells can trigger memories because the olfactory bulb, which processes scents, is closely connected to the brain's areas associated with memory and emotion. As a result, when we smell something, it can evoke strong memories and emotions associated with that particular scent.

5. Can the smell of things be harmful?

Yes, some smells can be harmful if they are coming from toxic or hazardous substances. Inhaling these substances can cause respiratory issues and other health problems. It is important to be cautious of strong or unusual smells and avoid exposure to potentially harmful substances.

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