The Quantum Unicorn Accord

The Science of Smell
Chandler Burr’s book The Emperor of Scent detailed Luca Turin’s Smell Vibration Theory back in 2003.

In layman’s terms there are two theories of smell. Neither has been proved.

The Shape Theory of Smell – the shape of a molecule causes its scent.

The Vibration Theory of Smell – the vibrational frequency of a molecule causes its scent.

Scientific American magazine recently published the article below highlighting Luca Turin’s work.

Scientific American – Study bolsters Quantum Vibration Scent Theory

Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez - authors of Perfumes - The A-Z Guide

Vibrations at work – Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez


Here are some current thoughts on the theory:

I like to think of the vibration theory of olfaction and its proponents as unicorns. The rest of us studying olfaction are horses.
– Professor Leslie Vosshall

After nearly 20 years Luca Turin is still studying receptor biophysics by smelling things, albeit now double blinded.
– Steve Shea

Gosh, why would anyone study olfaction by smelling things?
– Tania Sanchez

I’d rather be a creature of legend than a nag…
– Luca Turin

Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez – authors of Perfumes: The A-Z Guide

Luca and Tania met through their love and appreciation of perfume. They co-authored a book and were married in 2007.

Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez – interview and love story by Simone from Mais Que Perfume.

What do think? Do you smell vibrations or smells shapes?

The best answer (based subjectively on my opinion) will receive a gift of the book Perfumes: The A-Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez.

Love Vibrations,

Jordan River

Further Reading
The Secret of Scent by Luca Turin
BBC News – ‘Quantum smell’ idea gains ground
Paris Review Emily Gould reacts to Perfumes: The A-Z Guide
Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez – interview and love story by Simone from Mais Que Perfume.
The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr reviewed by Portia Turbo
Perfumes: The A-Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez
Molecular Vibration-Sensing Component in Human Olfaction Public Library of Science
Luca Turin – Update
Luca Turin – December 2013 Update
Smell Theory round-up by Rose Gray – see ODOU magazine . In the first issue of ODOU magazine Rose Gray articulates the various theories of smell including Vibration Theory, Odotype Theory, Lock and Key Theory and several other historical and current theories.
Vibrations, Quanta and Biology – by Susana Fernandez Huelga and Martin Plenio – this is a link to a complimentary PDF download which provides a unifying framework for ideas in quantum biology that various people have come up with concerning vibrations, electronic motion, spins and other quantum concepts.

Message in a Bottle – Luca Turin’s column on Style.com/Arabia
Message in a Bottle – Column I
Message in a Bottle – Column II
Message in a Bottle – Column III
Message in a Bottle – Column IV
Message in a Bottle – Column V

25 responses to “The Quantum Unicorn Accord

  1. I smell vibrations…..and good ones at that!
    I did not know that Turin and Sanchez are married… yet, I am not surprised. Two people passionate about something are bound to come together.

    • Makes sense to me. You can smell fear, you can smell passion.
      How does that song go? I’ll cry me a river that leads to your ocean. Written by the Bee Gees, sang by Samantha Sang and covered by Destiny’s Child.

      • “in the words of a broken heart it’s just emotion that’s taken me over..caught up in sorrow, lost in my soul, if you don’t come back..come home to me darling” That song, right? It was part of the soundtrack of “Saturday Night Fever”

  2. I couldn’t care less how, why or what I smell – as long as it smells good. I do not want to dissect art or joy (whatever perfumes are).

    I already own that book.

  3. I say vibration. The shapes thing just doesn’t sense. However, being in academia myself, it’s hard to convince people who have spent their entire lives devoted to the pursuit of one theorem.

    Above all? I agree with Undina: as long as it smells good, I am okay not dissecting it.

    PS. I also didn’t know they were married!

  4. I too am inclined to believe the vibration theory. Having worked on essences, it never ceases to amaze me how mixing two or more substances results in altering their individual olfactive profile in the mix. Although I am very much aware of what went in there and I know there is no chemical reaction at work there is some change of non chemical nature. As we know from mechanics, two vibrating bodies, brought together in the same space, affect each other and alter their frequencies. This could very much be the case of fragrant substances.

    First time here. Congratulations on your wonderful site.

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