Smell has long been explained by the “lock and key” hypothesis, which holds that we smell when odor molecules—each with a particular shape—“lock” into matching smell receptors in the nose. What’s the problem with this hypothesis? The fact that there are only a few hundred of these receptors in the human nose, yet humans are able to detect thousands and thousands of different odors.
So how exactly do we smell, then?
Researchers at MIT are looking now at the role vibration plays in our ability to sniff stuff out. They believe that the reason certain odor molecules can have similar structures (like vodka and rotten egg odors, apparently), they have radically different vibration properties, which may be the key to our being able to differentiate between so many different odors with so few receptors.
The MIT scientists performed experiments with fruit flies in which the flies were placed into a maze into which two nearly identical odor molecules were pumped. Despite the molecular similarities, the flies showed preference to one odor over the other, indicating that they could tell a difference between the odors—a difference the scientists say is due to different vibration patterns.
While this study doesn’t apply to humans necessarily (obviously), the scientists are looking to extend its results to tests with mammals.
Because I’m me, I wonder how figuring out how smell really works would play into treatment for anosmia and parosmia. If at all. You never know, biology is weird.
So I spent the better part of this afternoon searching the MIT class listings, and nowhere could I find a class in which one is taught how to wield a crowbar. I guess Gordon took that as a correspondence class at Harvard or something.
CWBR 101: Research Facility Disaster Training
CWBR 101 Lab: Headcrab Defense Theory
Prerequisites: a PhD in Theoretical Physics
Also, how the hell do you get a PhD in Theoretical Physics by age 27? EXPLAIN THAT, GORDON!
I always used to hate how all the other scientists treated him like crap until the resonance cascade. I guess they’re pissed that they’re all geezers and he’s 27. I bet he had some rivalries going down, too.
Old Scientist Ted: Oh man, I’m totally going for that Anomalous Materials Lab assistant position.
Old Scientist Gary: Go for it, dude!
Old Scientist Ted: I can push that non-standard specimen SO PRECISELY…I’ve been practicing!
Old Scientist Gary: You’re totally going to get that position!
Gordon: Hey Ted, Gary. There’s this thing going down at the Anomalous Materials Lab and I guess they want me to assist with some non-standard specimen or something. Pretty cool, huh?
Old Scientist Ted: …I will destroy you, Gordon Freeman.
Also, this description of him from his Wiki page is freaking fantastic:
“Gordon is a native of Seattle who exhibited an early interest in theoretical physics, especially quantum mechanics and the theory of general relativity. His childhood heroes were Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and Richard Feynman. After observing a series of teleportation experiments conducted by the Institute for Experimental Physics in Innsbruck, Austria, the transmission of matter became Gordon’s obsession. Gordon has no known dependents. He graduated from MIT with a Ph.D. degree in Theoretical Physics. His doctoral thesis on the teleportation of matter through extremely dense elements was titled Observation of Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Entanglement on Supraquantum Structures by Induction Through Nonlinear Transuranic Crystal of Extremely Long Wavelength (ELW) Pulse from Mode-Locked Source Array.”
I’m half-tempted to edit with this addition: “At an early age, Gordon exhibited several violent tendencies, with one instance involving a crowbar and his father’s pet crab standing out above all others. Had his father not overlooked this incident, passing it off as mere childhood buffoonery, Freeman may not have retained the crowbar-wielding, crab-like-creature-killing skills that helped save the universe from Xen following the resonance cascade at Black Mesa.”
Also: holy crap, Half-Life is twelve years old now.
Today’s song: Creepy (Mightyfools Remix) by Boltan (this song gets insanely eargasmic at approximately 2 minutes in, it’s great)