Wei-Ning Yu
April 08, 2017 10:12 am
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Have you ever sniffed the well-worn pages of an old book and immediately taken a second whiff?  If you have, chances are the scent reminded you of something familiar, something comforting, something you crave on a regular basis.  What could that be, you ask? Science tells us it’s chocolate and coffee.

According to a study published in Heritage Science, two scientists designed an experiment where they tested the affect of unlabeled and concealed smells on people who smelled them. This experiment was performed at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, where 79 of its visitors were asked to participate. According to their findings, the overwhelming majority of test subjects equated the old-book smell to that of chocolate and coffee. The fact that it repeatedly came up astounded the scientists.

How does that work?

Materials — like chocolates, like books — can release small amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOC) into the air.  That’s what we pick up with our noses and then interpret with our brains.  The researchers were able to take these compounds and run them through sensors and other complicated, scientific equipment (a combination of the ‘ole gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer) to identify various smell components. They also discovered tiny variations in the chemical compositions of books.

Fascinating stuff!

How does this affect the future? The same researchers are hoping to find a way to preserve smell in the same way society preserves old buildings so that future generations can enjoy them. They believe that smell plays an important role in shaping a person’s memories since it is so closely tied to the memory center in the brain.

So, maybe it’s just us, but we’re totally imagining a library of scented books! Also, doesn’t this totally clarify why so many bookstores have coffee shops in them now? Time to add chocolate shops, too!

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