Anyone who sleeps under the same roof as a snorer will likely tell you that white noise machines are crucial for a good night's sleep. If only there were "white smell" machines that could drown out offensive smells in similar fashion.
That may not be too far of a stretch imagination, thanks to a team of researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. By combining aroma molecules from across the scent spectrum, researches created a smell called "olfactory white," an odor neither pleasant or foul smelling that could be used to cover up more prominent smells.
Led by neuroscientist Noam Sobel, the researchers named the white smell after white noise and white light. White noise is produced by combing different sound frequencies of the audible spectrum, while white light is produced when wavelengths of the visible spectrum are combined.
Sobel and his team recently published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
"We selected 86 molecules that span olfactory stimulus space and individually diluted them to a point of about equal intensity. We then prepared various odorant mixtures, each containing various numbers of molecular components, and asked human participants to rate the perceptual similarity of such mixture pairs. We found that as we increased the number of nonoverlapping, equal-intensity components in odorant mixtures, the mixtures became more similar to each other, despite not having a single component in common. With ∼30 components, most mixtures smelled alike."
"One might imagine that the more odors are added, the more 'special' the odor would become," Sobel said, according to Nature. "Yet what we show is the opposite."
A subsequent experiment confirmed that Sobel and company's "white smell" could have real-world applications. When the team combined "olfactory white" to the four molecules essential to the smell of a rose, they found that the rose scent was effectively masked.
For anyone who's ever had to endure the effluvia of public restrooms, fish markets or the neighbor across the hall who burned a batch of aloo gobi, technology like "olfactory white" could be the breath of fresh air we're gasping for.