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Friday Fun. Sniffing chemicals

David Gregory | 10:40 UK time, Friday, 14 August 2009

a bottle of perfumeIt's only natural when you start a science blog to pay even more attention to the rest of the blogosphere. But I didn't expect to learn so much about chemistry from someone writing about perfume and aftershave.

Scent Notes is a New York Times blog written by Chandler Burr. Now my expertise with aftershave is three different squirts in duty-free and buying the least offensive with a litre of vodka.

But Mr Burr really makes you look at smell them again. The writing is excellent. Smell and scent are extremely slippery things when most of us try to describe them but here they are pinned down like a collection of butterflies.

What really interests me is the linking of certain chemicals to particular smells. So there's discussion of steryl acetate, isobutylquinolines, fluorocarbons and synthetic linalool. And all alongside some of the biggest fashion brands on the planet.

Which seems odd. Today companies are very twitchy about how we feel about chemical names. Even the word chemistry itself. But it wasn't always so. In 1982 Dupont changed its famous slogan "Better things for better living... Through Chemistry" and dropped the last two words. Dupont of course was a chemical company. These days its slogan is "Miracles through science". Hmmm.

I have happy memories of identifying new chemical compounds by their smells though I never found anything I'd want to splash all over my body. It's fascinating to see chemicals named and celebrated (and sometimes condemned) for how they smell and the role they play in this billion dollar industry

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