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Luca Turin

Luca Turin (1953 - ) is a biophysicist with a long-standing interest in the sense of smell, the art of perfume, and the fragrance industry.

Vibration theory of olfaction

Since 1996 Turin has been the leading proponent of the vibration theory of olfaction, which proposes that the vibrational spectroscopic properties of molecules can be an important determinant of their associated smells, rather than just the specific "lock and key" ligand binding proposed by the orthodox shape theory of olfaction. Turin suggested that a plausible mechanism for such a molecular spectroscope could be inelastic electron tunneling.

A major prediction of Turin's theory is the isotope effect: that the normal and deuterated versions of a compound should smell different, although they have the same shape. A 2001 study by Haffenden et al showed humans able to distinguish benzaldehyde from its deuterated version [2][3].

However, experimental tests published in Nature Neuroscience in 2004 by Vosshall and Keller failed to support this prediction, with human subjects unable to distinguish acetophenone and its deuterated counterpart [4]. The study was accompanied by an editorial, which considered Vosshall's work to be "refutation of a theory that, while provocative, has almost no credence in scientific circles. The only reason for the authors to do the study, or for Nature Neuroscience to publish it, is the extraordinary -- and inappropriate -- degree of publicity that the theory has received from uncritical journalists."[5] The journal also published a review of The Emperor of Scent, calling Chandler Burr's book about Turin and his theory "giddy and overwrought." [1]Philosopher of science Miriam Solomon of Temple University, who reviewed Turin's own book in Science[2], has suggested that Nature Neuroscience may have been defensive about the positive publicity surrounding Turin's theory because Nature, the parent journal, famously rejected Turin's original article.[3] Nevertheless, two years after publishing the Vosshall paper and the accompanying editorial, the news website of Nature published an article about a study that supported Turin's theory: "A controversial theory of how we smell, which claims that our fine sense of odour depends on quantum mechanics, has been given the thumbs up by a team of physicists."[4]

In addition, tests with animals have shown fish and insects able to distinguish isotopes by smell [6][7]. Biophysical simulations published in Physical Review Letters in 2006 suggest that Turin's proposal is viable from a physics standpoint [8].

The vibration theory received possible support from a 2004 paper published in the journal Organic Biomolecular Chemistry by Takane and Mitchell, which shows that odor descriptions in the olfaction literature correlate more strongly with vibrational frequency than with molecular shape [9].


Turin was a tenured staff member at CNRS in France for ten years, and was later lecturer in biophysics at University College London. In 2001 Turin was hired as CTO of start-up company Flexitral, based in Chantilly, Virginia, to pursue rational odorant design based on his theories.

He is the author of the book The Secret of Scent (2006), which details the history and science of his theory of olfaction, and an acclaimed critical guide on perfume, Parfums : Le guide, with two editions published in French in 1992 and 1994. He is also the subject of the 2003 book The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr, as well as of the BBC Horizon documentary "A Code in the Nose."

Since 2003, Turin has also written a regular column on perfume, "Duftnote," for NZZ Folio, the German-language monthly magazine of Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. The column is also published in English on the magazine's website.

In late 2006 Viking Press announced a forthcoming book written by Turin and co-author Tania Sanchez called Perfumes: The Guide, which will include reviews of more than 1,200 fragrances, from "Undoubted Masterpieces" to the "Monumentally Awful." The book is scheduled to be published in April 2008.


  1. ^ Gilbert, Avery. Nature Neuroscience, p 6, 335 (2003)
  2. ^ Solomon, Miriam. "On Smell and Scientific Practice." Science, pp 763-764, 313 (2006)
  3. ^ Solomon, Miriam. "Norms of Epistemic Diversity." Episteme: A Journal of Social Epistemology, pp 23-36, 3.1 (2006) [1]
  4. ^ Ball, Phillip (2006-12-07), " ", News@Nature,
  • Burr, Chandler (2003). The Emperor of Scent: A Story of Perfume, Obsession, and the Last Mystery of the Senses. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-375-50797-3. 
  • Turin, Luca (2006). The Secret of Scent: Adventures in Perfume and the Science of Smell. New York: Ecco. ISBN 0-06-113383-3. 
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Luca_Turin". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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