Does the Nose Know?

By Lisa QuSmelling a cup of freshly brewed coffee can be a rich, almost magical, experience. In fact, in that brief moment, you are smelling a mixture of more than 800 different molecules that make up the smell of coffee.Part of what makes that experience so rich also makes the sense of smell notoriously difficult to study. Unlike vision or hearing, where stimuli range along a set scale – for example, brightness or frequency – odorants exist in a multi-dimensional space with most, like coffee, composed of hundreds or even thousands of different compounds in varying combinations. Furthermore, odors can be very transient, perhaps lasting only a short time before being dispersed by a gust of wind. We also habituate very quickly to odors. For instance, when you first enter…

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