Best of 2014 // #99: The Nose Knows


Our noses are amazing at picking out hundreds or thousands of different scents every day: our morning cup of coffee, bad eggs, rose petals, too much cologne at the office, too little cologne. But exactly how many can we actually detect?

This year, Science found an answer.

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Its way more than we’ve ever thought.

It’s about a trillion different scents

A smell moving towards a human nose
How much smell can our noses actually detect?

For many decades, it was estimated that the average number of different smells the average person could detect was about 10,000.

[…”We decided to do some experiments to replace the number with a more realistic one…”]

Andreas Keller, Neurobiologists, Rockefeller University

Keller led a team to determine the true number and in march, published their findings: 26 volunteers sniffed 520 ‘cocktails’ of different scents.

Each ‘cocktail’ being a unique blend, drawn from 128 different odor molecules.

The volunteers were able to distinguish the difference between even the most similar smelling mixtures. Using the findings and extrapolating the data led Keller to estimate that average people can smell at least a trillion different unique scents – and possibly many more.

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