A further concern with the shape theory is that different molecules of the same shape can be easily distinguished as separate smells by participants.
So, if the shape theory is incorrect, how do we smell? The answer may be far weirder than you imagine. Quantum mechanics could be at play, right before our eyes every time we sniff!
The alternative to shape theory is the ‘vibrational theory‘. Research led by Luca Turin in this area investigated whether ‘olfaction recognizes odorants by their shape, their molecular vibrations, or both’.
Luca suggests that different smells are determined in the nose by the vibration of the molecules rather than the shape of them. Using the quantum mechanic theory that an electron can behave as a wave as well as a particle, we can accept that at sometimes atoms pass through barriers that we wouldn’t normally expect them to.
So, if a molecule vibrates at a certain frequency, which matches an energy recognised by a certain receptor, this may open a kind of pathway, allowing a process described as ‘electron tunnelling‘, which enables us to discern one scent from another. So in essence this is a kind of teleportation.
It is a controversial theory as you can imagine, but many studies are supporting the idea. Shape theory is widely accepted as incorrect, but quantum mechanics in the nose has not exactly been embraced to date. It is a niche area of science, with little impact on human health, so it may be some time before we know exactly how we recognise smells.
Most of us remember how a rainbow is formed from science lessons at school. But do we know the whole story?
This was the story in my mind, maybe yours too: Light waves from the sun refract when they reach droplets of water in the air and this breaks the waves into a spectrum of colours, which is reflected out as a rainbow.
This explanation is clearly missing some big chunks of information, and the following description aims to fill in the blanks a little.
We know that visible (white) light is made of up a spectrum of various wavelengths of light, with each associated with a separate distinct colour. When the sunlight goes through a water droplet, it acts as a tiny prism which disperses the light. Dispersing the light means breaking it open into it’s separate coloured wavelengths.
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