The quantum theory of smell: implications for cleaning.

Last night, after a hard day of domestic cleaning, I chanced to watch the splendid physicist Jim Al-Khalili's program on Quantum Biology. Fascinating, intriguing, and educational as the best science should be: to provide inspiration for viewers to think: "well if that's the case, then what happens if....or what comes next?"

Certainly it was the case for me. The most interesting thing on the program was not how the cheerful Robin uses quantum mechanics on its migrations (via a protein called Cryptochrome in the retina which gets 'entangled' after light enters the Robin's eye. In response to changes in distance and direction, these entagled atoms produce a chemical change that tells the Robin's brain which way to go!), but rather, the concept of quantum smell (also known, more drily, as 'Vibratory Theory of Olfaction').

The belief of previous generations is that smell worked on a 'lock and key' system, where the shape of the molecules interacts with the shape of the receptors in the nose. However, this never explained thereason why different molecules smell the same - such as almonds (benzaldehyde) and cyanide - both with different atoms in the molecules (thank god - or we'd all suffer far more permanent nut allergies!)

The quantum theory of smell takes the view that it is actually the bonds between the atoms of the molecules that interact with our receptors, as these vibrate on different wavelengths. So it is the bonds between the atoms that make up the molecules that we are actually 'smelling.'

So what does this mean for a future cleaning product? Malvern Cleaners would like to think that one day, in the not-to-distant future, we might be cleaning a domestic property with specially designed 'quantum aerosols' that might bond to existing offensive odours to alter the bonds that hold the unpleasant molecules together.

Don't get me started on what it could mean for personal hygiene! Tis a Brave New World indeed.

You can watch the program on the BBC Iplayer:

(It's actually the second of three parts, so I'll have to go back and catch up).

CleaningLubica Church