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What is Luca Turin up to these days?

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Luca Turin has had quite a run, first surfacing as a popular writer on scents with two books, The Secret of Scent (2006) and the Perfumes: The A-Z Guide (2008). He had already become a familiar name to some through Chandler Burr’s book The Emperor of Scent (2002), which contained the first account of his theory of olfaction. After a bit of a gap, The Little Book of Scents came out in 2011; finally, we saw a collection of Folio Columns 2003 to 2014, which appeared in 2015 .

Fast forward a bit: From March to October of last year, he was also blogging again: He ended it with a short post called “Good while it lasted,” announcing he was “moving on to new and exciting things,” and that “Perfumes must take a back seat.”

Living in Athens now, Luca Turin was on Twitter in early May looking for samples of the original Iris Gris to analyze and try to reconstruct its formula. Reports on Facebook suggest they are looking to republish continuation(s) of Perfumes: A Guide (with six-month updates?), but only on new perfumes.

Just today, I was looking at a YouTube video of Luca Turin from early last year (February 2106, link:, in which he is talking about recent developments in olfaction research papers, and reviewing the current version of his theory in some detail. If you have a bit over an hour to hear about some heavy-duty biophysics, check the link. If you don’t have the time, here in brief are some bits of science he talks about:

His theory is bolstered by the technique of nuclear magnetic resonance detection, which is an equivalent of mass spectrometry that uses magnetic rather than light detection. He claims the use of this technique overcomes a key objection to his vibrational theory of odor detection, providing an alternative explanation for the mechanism of detection.

He explains elastic and inelastic electron tunneling processes as the sensor trigger mechanisms of odor receptors in the human nose. (Electron tunneling is a process by which electrons "sense" molecular vibration across a gap, and are consequently able to cross the gap or not. If they do, it activates the receptor and triggers an impulse to the olfactory center in the brain.)

He posits that each receptor (of about 400) in the nose is attuned to a different vibrational band, and identifies a range of frequencies for different odorant molecules. Once every receptor has fired, together all of them can transmit a complete molecular signature of the scent to the brain.

Also, a counter to his most recent critics, he explains that his latest experiments have used tested chromatography-pure materials.

Disclaimer: I’m not a scientist or a professional perfumer, so please don’t kill me if I’ve got any of this wrong, or misinterpreted any of it. If you think so, check it out for yourself on YouTube. Thanks.

But hey! Turin’s still at it after all these years! I admire his tenacity, his verbal eloquence, and his love for scents. I hope he and Tania Sanchez can focus some more on writing, without “new and exciting things” interfering too much. I miss his insights on the things we Basenoters love the most: scents. There may be hope: In one of his YouTube talks, after going through a lot of science, he ends by saying to the perfumers in the audience, “Oh, sure, keep making the juice.”



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