Posted August 29, 2014
The nose may be one of the most unappreciated facial elements. People often complain about the appearance of their nose—it’s too long, too wide, too crooked—but it does an amazing job. It helps you breathe, drains your sinuses, holds eyeglasses on your face and provides your sense of smell. In fact, new studies show that humans actually can smell over 1 trillion different scents.
Historically, scientists have touted animals for their keen sense of smell, leaving humans far behind. Researchers estimated that humans could smell about 10,000 odors. This placed the performance of the nose well under the 10 million colors the human eyes can decipher. But a new study refutes this by demonstrating that the nose can outperform the eyes.
Smell research study
Scientists at The Rockefeller University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute conducted experiments using 128 chemicals with diverse odors. They mixed the chemicals together to create over 260 vials of scents. Participants were asked to smell the combinations and identify the scents. Using mathematical calculations, and the number of aromas correctly identified, researchers determined that humans can actually smell at least 1 trillion scents.
Significance of the research
Why does this research matter? Although most people will never smell 1 trillion different scents in their lifetime, scientists now better understand the powerful nature of the human nose. And it opens the door to new ideas of how to help humans learn to detect differences between smells. It also helps to determine how to develop products that could capitalize on the more than 1 million scents the nose can detect.