Smells like SCIENCE
January 2, 2013 3:34 PM Subscribe
After dropping chemistry post-GCSEs, I find myself reading a couple of books about perfume construction that have made me realise that molecules are interesting, and that if they're written about for a non-scientific audience, I understand and am engaged by them more. How can I learn more without being scared off by Really Hard Science? And are there other books or articles which deal with the construction of scents and smells?
posted by mippy to Science & Nature (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The books I've been reading are two by Chandler Burr - The Perfect Scent, about the development and manufacture of two particular perfumes (one a celebrity perfume, the other by a reknowned 'nose') and The Emperor of Scent, which is about the scientist/writer Luca Turin's theory of how scent is perceived by the nose - but my woeful chemistry/scientific knowledge has led me to put that to one side for the moment until I can understand it better. I also have The Canon, the guide to science for the non-scientific, though I haven't managed to get into it yet.
I've realised I'm fascinated by the descriptions of the chemistry of perfume - the huge companies that develop scents in labs, machines that can break down scents into exact molecular compositions and how some perfumers drop in infinitesmal concentrations of compounds to avoid 'piracy', the ways in which certain synthetics can completely change a smell molecule by molecule, the widely-used molecular compounds that the consumer has come to know as 'citrus' or 'fresh laundry' in household products. I'm interested in the idea that smells or fragrances work because their ingredients are arranged in a particular way on a molecular level, and I'd like to know how and why compounds and elements are used.
If chemistry at school was about this, I would have got an A. But I didn't, and now I'm wondering what else I can read which will hold the same fascination to me without being aimed at people who already have more of a grasp of how molecular structures etc. work, but which won't be difficult for my left brain to parse. Where should I go to learn more?