Tag Archives: scent

Meet the Terpenes: A Visual Introduction from Isoprene to Latex

Inspiration for Meet the Terpenes came from the rhetological fallacies graphic over at Information is Beautiful, while motivation came from a 45°C heat wave this week that prevented any sensible Australians from going outside. So I stayed at home and did this.

Meet the Terpenes - A Visual Introduction from Isoprene to Latex
Click to download 200dpi JPEG (5.4Mb)

It took about three days to sketch, research and create.

Three days ago, I knew nothing about terpenes. My undergraduate phytochemistry class was really difficult. The teacher was a genius, and put huge amounts of effort into his tutorials, giving us thick booklets at each seminar filled with his hand-written notes and dozens of chemical structures. But for some reason, I just didn’t get it.

So this week, I decided to make the graphic I wish I’d had when I took the phytochemistry class many years ago. Having this poster on my wall would have answered all my questions and made the class much more enjoyable. I hope you find it useful, too.

As always, I welcome all feedback, corrections, suggestions and comments, etc.

Enjoy 🙂 James

Book: The Secret of Scent

The Secret of Scent

Mesmerising, thrilling quest for what causes scent.
Brimming with chemical structures.
200 pages, ★★★★★

Wow. The Secret of Scent looks like a bottle of Chanel No. 5. It even says 1 fl oz!

The book’s subtitle, adventures in perfume and the science of smell is totally accurate (after some rearrangement). If we were to split this book vertically, like an avocado, the first 100 pages would describe the smell of perfume, while the latter 100 pages could be titled adventures in science.

The smell of perfume half tells us the main categories of smell and how altering compounds alters their smell. This half of the book is full of chemical structures and IUPAC nomenclature. This half of The Secret of Scentinspired another perfume-related graphic, which I’m making as we speak. 🙂

The adventures in science part is an exciting journey towards the discovery of the secret of scent (which hasn’t quite yet been discovered, but scientists are getting very close). Two main theories prevail in the science of smell: that odorous compounds are recognised by either (a) their vibrational frequencies; or (b) their chemical shape. This book provides more evidence for the former (vibrational frequencies), implying that it might be possible to predict the smell of a molecule from its infra-red spectrograph! Unfortunately, this theory doesn’t explain chirality, and how humans can perceive chiral enantiomers sometimes of different smells (e.g. orange and lemon) seems to violate this first theory. Or, merging the two theories together, it would seem that our olfactory glands are doing some kind of chiral spectroscopy on the molecules we breathe!

Fascinating book. I love Chemistry and I love perfume so this was a perfect book form me. Also consider A Natural History of the Senses by Diana Ackerman★★★★★