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Sense of Smell Tied To Quantum Physics?

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the sniffing-out-a-theory dept.

Biotech 169

SpaceAdmiral writes "A controversial theory that proposes that our sense of smell is based not on the shape of the molecules that enter our nose but on their vibrations was given a boost recently when University College London researchers determined that the quantum physics involved makes sense. The theory, proposed in the mid-1990s by biophysicist Luca Turin, suggests that electron tunneling initiates the smell signal being sent to the brain. It could explain why similarly shaped molecules can have very different smells, and molecules with very different structures can smell similar." Turin has now formed a company to design odorants using his theory, and claims an advantage over the competition of two orders of magnitude in rate of discovery. The article concludes, "At the very least, he is putting his money where his nose is."

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Raised eyebrows... (4, Informative)

BWJones (18351) | more than 7 years ago | (#17200826)

I am going to be very skeptical of this and would not be tossing any money into a private company to study this just yet. The olfactory system is well capable of distinguishing many small molecules, even those that are very similar using a variety of well known and well understood processes just as in the immune system. Look, a Nobel prize was awarded back in the 30's for the discovery that IGGs can recognize even racemic molecules such as L and D forms of glycine even and the olfactory literature is just as rich. The biggest problem however, with the UCL approach is that it completely ignores years of cortical, subcortical and psychophysics data. Furthermore, there is no effort or model in their work that might explain how the signals would be transduced into cortical/subcortical signals or how they account for potential noise in the system. Their claim that signals can be translated through tunneling in a biological system which likely swamps those potential signals with noise is what really troubles me.

I am not saying that they should not do it, or that they are absolutely wrong, as it is possibly interesting. Rather all I am saying is my eyebrows are raised at their claims.

Re:Raised eyebrows... (3, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#17200924)

On the other hand, if it turns out to be true, it has far-reaching implications. A lot of people have been saying for a long time that quantum effects simply cannot be a factor in the brain, or causing neurons to fire or not, because their effect is too weak. This would be a counterexample and might cause us to look more seriously at quantum activity in the brain. One theory of the mechanism of memory is that it is stored as a series of quantum oscillations creating a sort of holographic pattern...

Re:Raised eyebrows... (3, Funny)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201082)

On the other hand, if it turns out to be true, it has far-reaching implications


Sure! It means that the smeller has an effect on the smelled! It also explains why Schroedinger never took into account the SMELL of that both dead and alive cat...

Re:Raised eyebrows... (1)

Drooling Iguana (61479) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201342)

I've been saying this all along! Whoever smelt it dealt it.

Penrose-Hameroff Theory of Consciousness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17201494)

Though skeptics initially dismissed the Penrose-Hameroff theory of consciousness, increasingly, it seems to have validity.

Given that smell is based on detecting quantum states, could consciousness also be connected to quantum states?

The sentient artificial intelligence is just around the corner.

Re:Raised eyebrows... (2, Informative)

Vreejack (68778) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201180)

The article is about olfactory receptors, not neurons. All the interactions described here are taking place where the external part of the olfactory receptor meets passing molecules. The actual news here is that the olfactory receptors might actually be capable of detecting quantum-level effects, unlike brain neurons which lack anything near the sensitivity required for that.

Re:Raised eyebrows... (3, Insightful)

cnettel (836611) | more than 7 years ago | (#17202884)

All chemical bonds are quantum-level effects. You're absolutely right that this is just about the receptors, and it would have been a great surprise if those did NOT show great specificity, with far more than simple sterical relationships. On the other hand, this also applies to just about every neuron junction, where you have specific receptors for neuropeptides. Those are just as much, or as little, quantum physics as this. In addition, just about every enzymatic system with some movement going on is naturally quite dependent on effects like these (and hence a pain to model, it's hard enough to get a static structure right).

You're basically right, though: Major oscillations between groups of neurons or anything like that is something radically different than this, and this theory doesn't make that any more likely. Even in that case, there is no reason to scream "quantum" (as in: impossible to handle with good old Newtonian physics/statistical chemistry/thermodynamics), as the main effects should be the varying electrical field, which we can easily measure with EEG electrodes. Some degree of leakage/overhearing is known, but I've no idea if anyone has found that as crucial to proper function, rather than a noise effect that's generally filtered out.

Quantum eyebrows... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17200944)

"I am not saying that they should not do it, or that they are absolutely wrong, as it is possibly interesting. Rather all I am saying is my eyebrows are raised at their claims."

I propose the theory of tunneling eyebrows.

Smelloscope (2, Funny)

Khammurabi (962376) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201028)

The whole idea of quantum smelling immediately brought Futurama to mind:

Cubert: I didn't realize you were the inventor of the junk heap!

Prof.: That's my price-winning Smelloscope. If a dog craps anywhere in the universe, you can bet I won't be out of the loop. And this is my Universal Translator. Unfortunately, it only translates into an incomprehensible dead language.

Cubert: Hello.

Translator: Bonjour.

Prof.: Crazy gibberish!

Re:Smelloscope (1)

Deus Acerbus (914251) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201232)

"And therefore, by process of elimination, the electron must taste like Grape-Ade."

Re:Raised eyebrows... (1)

shawn(at)fsu (447153) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201046)

my eyebrows are raised
What about your nose?

Re:Raised eyebrows... (1)

HeadlessNotAHorseman (823040) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201064)

Has anyone got any examples of something which smells different when a different isotope is involved? I'd love to know what an isotope smells like!

If the theory turns out to be correct, would this make it easier to create "smellovision"? You could have some sort of nasal attachment which at different points during the program causes specific molecular vibrations, thus causing the viewer to perceive different smells.

Re:Raised eyebrows... (1)

nuklearfusion (748554) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201412)

A quick search for isotope smell [google.com] reviled this [corante.com]
FTA
Three of his proposals took a good pounding: that mixtures of guiacol and benzaldehyde take on a vanilla odor not found in either compound alone, that straight-chain aldehydes with an odd number of carbons smell different from even-numbered ones, and that deuterated acetophenone smells different from the parent compound.

Although the article implies that a group took him apart on this idea, i suspect that this may be what Turin was referring to.

Re:Raised eyebrows... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17201088)

Read "The Emperor of Scent" by Chandler Burr.

It covers the topic very well, and is entertaining, at that. The cool part is how this guy Luca has such a great sense of smell, and can identify with the various buzz-words in the industry.

Re:Raised eyebrows... (1)

HappySqurriel (1010623) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201174)

I know far too little about quantum physics to comment on the plausability of any claims related to it but I also wouldn't be too surprised if this theory was true. My reasoning is quite simple, being that the classification of substances, objects and other animals has made the difference between life and death and evolution should (over millions of years) provide mechanisms to differentiate these items; if you need to be able to tell the difference between two gasses which are similar in all ways not related to quantium physics then a method related to quantium physics will have to be generated in order to survive.

Basically, what I'm saying is that if a mutation to tolerate a dangerous substance doesn't apear over time it is likely that a mutation to detect a dangerous substance will apear

Re:Raised eyebrows... (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201398)

if you need to be able to tell the difference between two gasses which are similar in all ways not related to quantium physics then a method related to quantium physics will have to be generated in order to survive.

Except that gases that are meaningfully different to us humans and other forms of life are different on a much greater than quantum scale. And the range of those gases that there is evolutionary pressure to detect is limited to those that appear with enough regularity in the terran biosphere to either aid those that can detect them or kill those that cannot.

Evolution isn't magic. It's the recognition that vairations that are most fit to a given environment will be the ones that most survive, and in a changing environment the most varied forms of life are those that survive.

Re:Raised eyebrows... (3, Insightful)

kebes (861706) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201272)

I share your general skepticism, but the theory is not unreasonable. To suggest that electrons tunnel when an odorant molecule docks in a receptor site seems reasonable enough. Of course the question is whether the signal from such an event is sufficiently above the noise. TFA is specifically about some calculations that suggest that the tunnelling rate should be reasonably high (and, crucially, should be quite different with vs. without the odorant molecule).

You are right about the established body of literature that already explains much of the sense of smell. However I think it's worth keeping in mind that the two explanations are not mutually exclusive. It sounds like even the scientists in question are treating it like this is an either/or situation, but there's nothing impossible about smell involving a combination of shape-specific molecular recognition and electron-tunneling-specific molecular recognition. Perhaps some shape is the general measurement and then electronic effects provide secondary information.

In any case, it sounds like it is worth some further investigation. There are still many unanswered questions. However, like you, I won't be investing just yet!

Re:Raised eyebrows... (2, Interesting)

whathappenedtomonday (581634) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201308)

Their claim that signals can be translated through tunneling in a biological system which likely swamps those potential signals with noise is what really troubles me.

Actually, there seems to be quite a lot of noise in our brain. [zdnet.com]

Re:Raised eyebrows... (5, Insightful)

ywl (22227) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201358)

I am a neuroscientist who used to work on olfaction.

His theory is unconventional but it didn't break any known biological principles. Odors are detected by olfactory receptor *neurons* located on the olfactory epithelium inside the nose (for vetebrates). There are some olfactory receptor *molecules* on the membrane of these neurons - to the confusion of most people, both the neurons and molecules are sometimes called "olfactory receptors". The consenses for the last decade is that these molecules recognize the shape of odor molecules through chemcial interactions. The binding of the odor molecules to the receptors changes the membrane potential of the olfactory receptor neurons which then transmit the information to the brain.

What he is proposing is instead of, or in additional to, the chemical interactions, the olfactory receptor molecules can recognize the odorant molecules through quantal properties. It's unconventional but it is not totally implausible. The interactions between receptor molecules and agonist (the molecules that bind and activate the receptors) are molecular level events. I'm not a quantal physicist but weird things could perceivably happen at those levels. And after the olfactory receptor molecules being activated, the signal goes to the brain in the same way as the conventional theory.

The weakness of the theory is more since it's an unconventional claim, it needs more than usual proof. The experiment is not hard to do and after ten years, I haven't heard of a single high profile experimental paper to support it (I could have missed it). So, it probably should be classified as a neat but unproven theory.

Re:Raised eyebrows... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17202244)

Thanks for summarizing the article, professor.

Re:Raised eyebrows... (1)

shadwstalkr (111149) | more than 7 years ago | (#17202598)

s/smelling things/olfaction/g
s/smelly stuff/odorant/g

I can already olfact the odorant of sweet, sweet grant money.

Re:Raised eyebrows... (2, Informative)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201580)

The notion that things with similar structures having different smells - well, things with different structures often have different chemistries. Often a slight change in structure has significant effect on shape, size, polarity, electronegativity, etc, and these things can have enormous impacts on the ability of an odorant to fit correctly with a G-coupled protein receptor, which are the proteins responsible for olfaction.

The notion that things with different structures smelling the same is irrelevant - it's been shown that a similar *perception* can be caused by a very different combination of actual receptor activations. The conclusion there, not surprisingly, is that perception owes more to the backend processing done in the nasal epithelium and the brain *after* the signals are sent downstream from the receptors.

I'm not saying it plays no role at all, but it's danged questionable. The only evidence at all is the isotopic effect, but there may be other alternative effects going on, including something as mundane as the difference in vapor pressure. The olfactory sensors I worked on could distinguish H20 fromD20, and they most certainly did NOT work on a principle of electronic tunnelling. Sometimes when people hear hoofbeats, they assume camels and zebras.

Re:Raised eyebrows... (5, Informative)

alkaloids (739233) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201650)

IGGs can recognize even racemic molecules such as L and D forms of glycine
Ah, glycine is um, not chiral. Therefore you can't have an L or a D form, nor can you have a racemate... Close though! You were really unlucky, as glycine is the only AA that's not chiral.

As to the rest of the comment, I'll raise my eyebrows at it. I'm thoroughly skeptical that tunneling would be involved in smell though, but it would be amazing if it were. We'll find out soon enough I'm sure.

Re:Raised eyebrows... (4, Interesting)

BWJones (18351) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201740)

Dammit! Mad props to you as I was thinking alanine. That of course is exactly why Slashdot gets you in trouble. You type stuff in off the top of your head to get your entry in and sometimes you get it wrong. The cool thing is that there are folks on Slashdot that will catch you.

Re:Raised eyebrows... (2, Interesting)

blank axolotl (917736) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201764)

I disagree. My (non-expert) impression is that this research is really about the physics of receptor (detector) proteins. The neural system is irrelevant because what we are worried about here is whether the receptor triggers a reaction or not. Once the receptor is triggered, the psychology is the same: a signal passing down the nerve into the brain.

The idea seems plausible to me, at least it is worth investigating. What it proposes is a new way a receptor could be triggered by a molecule. Here, once the molecule has 'docked' into the receptor, if its electronic vibrations are matched to the receptor it will allow a charge to tunnel from one part of the receptor protein to another, triggering a larger reaction (like in photosynthesis). So, this receptor can detect electronic vibrations.

Actually, I think that how receptors and other membrane proteins work is fairly poorly understood (compared to other areas of physics), and there is a lot of research time going into it. Even the protein for photosynthesis isn't totally understood (though we know a lot). Last summer I was considering doing some modelling of a potassium channel, a homolog of the one essential to our nervous system. "The" potassium channel. Actually, we don't really know how it works! Previous models have suggested that some charged cylinders slide through the protein, pulled by the potential across the membrane and causing it to open, however the new theory (based on the recent crystallography data) is that it is actually a charged lever that gets pulled by the potential, opening the channel as it tilts. In other words, we still in the educated guessing stage, even for this essential protein.

My Point: How these proteins work really isn't understood. The idea seems plausible on surface glance. Maybe this guy is on to something big!

+5 informative? Mods been trolled (-1, Troll)

rhombic (140326) | more than 7 years ago | (#17202034)

Look, a Nobel prize was awarded back in the 30's for the discovery that IGGs can recognize even racemic molecules such as L and D forms of glycine even and the olfactory literature is just as rich.

I dunno which Nobel prize you're referring to, because none of the Chemistry or Med/Physiology prizes from the 1930s deal with antibody recognition of anything (listing here [britannica.com] ).

Recognized the D and L forms of glycine? You are aware that glycine is achiral, right? There is no such thing as D- or L- glycine.

Mods, nice job in giving +5 informative to a troll talking out of his/her arse.

Re:+5 informative? Mods been trolled (1)

BWJones (18351) | more than 7 years ago | (#17202198)

OK rhombic. Look up Karl Landsteiner, who won the Nobel in 1930 for his work discovering the major blood groups and the development of the ABO system of blood typing. If you were remotely familiar with your science or history, you might suspect that immunology just *might* be part of this work. Specifically, he discovered that agglutination was an immunological reaction and that specificity of the antigen is so good, that one can discriminate racemic molecules. Of course this work was the most medically pressing at the time, but his greatest work is considered to be his work in antigen-antibody reactions.

As for confusing glycine and alanine, I confused the two in a quick fit of slashdot posting. The difference is a methyl group rather than a hydrogen atom in one carbon position. Biochem was over a decade ago, so sue me and go back to your little rock.

Re:+5 informative? Mods been trolled (1, Interesting)

rhombic (140326) | more than 7 years ago | (#17202744)

Yep, Landsteiner got the Nobel in 1930 for ABO typing-- nothing to do w/ chiral recognition. That work was done later with van der Scheer, in the 20's, not part of the ABO work & not what the Nobel was awarded for. I am remotely familiar w/ my science in this area ;). And a little bit of the history, too.

Understood about confusing glycine & alanine, but when you're pointing out chiral recognition and you choose as an example the one and only non-chiral amino acid, somebody's gonna call you on it.

Re:Raised eyebrows... (3, Informative)

CapsaicinBoy (208973) | more than 7 years ago | (#17202722)

I am a chemosensory psychophysicist, but I work in taste/chemesthesis, not smell. That having been said, I was in the room when Keller and Vosshall presented the following at the Association for Chemoreception Sciences meeting in 2004.

A PSYCHOPHYSICAL TEST OF THE VIBRATION THEORY OF OLFACTION
Keller A., Vosshall L.B. Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior,
Rockefeller University, New York, NY

At present no satisfactory theory exists to explain why a given
molecule has a particular smell. A recent book about the physiologist
Luca Turin has generated new interest in the theory that the smell of a
molecule is determined by its intramolecular vibrations rather than by
its shape. We present the first psychophysical experiments in humans
that test key predictions of this theory. The results suggest that
molecular vibrations alone cannot explain the perceived smell of a
chemical. Specifically, we have found that: (i) in a component
identification task no vanilla odor character was detected in the mixture
of benzaldehyde and guaiacol (ii) odor similarity ratings did not reveal
that even and odd numbered aldehydes form two odor classes and (iii)
naive subjects who could easily discriminate the smell of two molecules
that differ in shape but not in molecular vibration failed to discriminate
two molecules with similar shape but different molecular vibrations in
three different experimental paradigms (similarity rating, duo-trio test,
triangle test). Taken together our findings are consistent with the idea
that the smell of a molecule is determined by its shape but we found no
evidence that the smell of a molecule is influenced by its vibrational
properties.

They subsequently published their findings in Nature Neuroscience.

Keller A, Vosshall LB. A psychophysical test of the vibration theory of olfaction. Nat Neurosci. 2004 Apr;7(4):337-8.

At present, no satisfactory theory exists to explain how a given molecule results in the perception of a particular smell. One theory is that olfactory sensory neurons detect intramolecular vibrations of the odorous molecule. We used psychophysical methods in humans to test this vibration theory of olfaction and found no evidence to support it.

The short version is that the data do not support Luca Turin's speculation.

Whole chemistry is based on quantum mechanics (4, Insightful)

poszi (698272) | more than 7 years ago | (#17202944)

I'm not a neuroscientist but I work on molecular interactions and the idea is not that far fetched. In general all interactions involve quantum mechanics. Protein folding, DNA helix, it all requires dispersion [wikipedia.org] which is a purely quantum-mechanical effect. I'd say the whole chemistry is immersed in quantum mechanics. Well, color can only be explained by quantum excitations, so why not smell?

This theory is "revolutionary" because biochemists use classical simulations. Quantum mechanics is very difficult to apply to such large systems in practice but these molecules definitely are governed by quantum mechanics like all molecules.

Been rooting for this guy! (4, Insightful)

RobertB-DC (622190) | more than 7 years ago | (#17200840)

I remember reading about this guy (probably on the Slashdots) years ago, and I hoped that this would be one of those rare cases of someone who is rejected by the "scientific community" and then goes on to success. There are so many scientists out there that end up on dead-end roads (I'm looking at you, Cold Fusion), that it's nice to have a reminder that there's still reason to explore.

For proof that success is the best revenge, just check out the company's product list [flexitral.com] . They're making a killing by creating replacements for aromatic allergens.

I guess one thing that made me think he was on to something was his reaction to the scientific community's snub -- one response I recall likened a quantum-mechanical sense of smell to "food being processed in the stomach by nuclear reactions". He did NOT go around telling the world that the scientist cabal was out to get him, or that the perfume cartel was conspiring to suppress his work. He simply went about building a successful business by *using* his hypothesis to create and license useful, concrete products.

You know, I think this is why we have patents in the first place. Not so megacorporations can trademark "business practices" -- if I hear another insurance company or bank describe their latest gimmick with a "patent pending" disclaimer I'm gonna puke. It's so some little guy on the right track can take a risk and come out on top.

Re:Been rooting for this guy! (2, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201020)


He did NOT go around telling the world that the scientist cabal was out to get him, or that the perfume cartel was conspiring to suppress his work. He simply went about building a successful business by *using* his hypothesis to create and license useful, concrete products.

I guess I'd be impressed if he actually did science and came up with an experiment or series of experiments that showed that his theory was correct, and the old theory is incorrect.

Since we presumably don't have any idea how his scent creation process works, it doesn't really lend any credence to his theory. Maybe his theory has nearly the same predictions as the current theory does, and his sucess is just because he's got a better process, better business model, etc? You can make a LOT of money while still completely misunderstanding how something works.

Re:Been rooting for this guy! (3, Informative)

Otter (3800) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201144)

Here's a good discussion [corante.com] of Turin's work as it stood a few months ago. I agree with Lowe that Nature Neuroscience's trashing of him was excessive and obnoxious, particularly because, as you say, there's no question that he behaves like a responsible scientist pushing a wildly controversial idea should.

Re:Been rooting for this guy! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17201294)

Being successful doesn't automatically mean you're right.

I can claim that my soda channels psychic vibrations to the part of your psyche responsible for taste, and that's why it tastes better better than the competition's drink. Or it might be that I used cane sugar instead of corn syrup.

Re:Been rooting for this guy! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17202766)

"I guess one thing that made me think he was on to something was his reaction to the scientific community's snub -- one response I recall likened a quantum-mechanical sense of smell to "food being processed in the stomach by nuclear reactions". He did NOT go around telling the world that the scientist cabal was out to get him, or that the perfume cartel was conspiring to suppress his work. He simply went about building a successful business by *using* his hypothesis to create and license useful, concrete products."

Plenty of people who aren't onto anything are forced to go the private market and make a killing off the ignorance of others.

fscking Turin?!? (-1, Offtopic)

Spackler (223562) | more than 7 years ago | (#17200842)

Turin has now formed a company to design odorants using his theory

After he lied about the shroud thing, I just would not buy anything from him.

Hmmm (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17200882)

Does that mean that Schroedinger's cat may or may not smell like a corpse if it's dead?

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17200958)

Lame physics jokes, here we come!!

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17201572)

It died? All right, who opened the box?

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17201828)

I prefer the corollary that any cat may or may not smell like a corpse if it's alive.

-- Hypothesized after a few too many years of cleaning a litter box.

So... Umm... (2, Funny)

vertinox (846076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17200926)

If I haven't gotten a whiff of my cat's litter yet, it is in neither state of smelling fresh or stinky?

Or if it does smell stinky, I can be certain in another universe it smells like roses?

Re:So... Umm... (1)

Duggeek (1015705) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201040)

But in that other universe, roses smell like cat-doo...

Unthinkable in the other universe, since it's normal there, unless they also have Slashdot...

If they do, then it's called Slatdosh and instead contains incessant blathering about irrelevant topics...

Oh... hang on a bit...

Maybe Slashdot itself is a portal to parallel worlds?

sometimes I feel like I was born too late (2, Insightful)

Adult film producer (866485) | more than 7 years ago | (#17200928)

I have this feeling we're just on the edge of a scientific revolution in understanding the human body. How many stories in the last few years have we read about using various types of stem cells that give birth to new retinal and nerve endings in the eye, that will give the blind the ability of sight.. or the giving birth to a new pancreas... doctors learning how to harness stem cells for regrowing teeth, understanding how cancer cells operate... It brings me back to that goofy star trek movie where they kidnap the whale from the 20th century, the Doctor Bones is horrified at the procedures they use to resucitate a victim of cardiac arrest or whatever, he views the whole procedure as barbaric medicine... I feel the same way about what's happening now, if only I could live to see through the revolution in medical science that's happening now. I'm probably too old though, being in my 30's, but one day I wouldn't be surprised if limbs and eyes could be regrown, cancer is understood and easily treated, a great number of ills to be cured... sigh, if only time were not an issue.

Re:sometimes I feel like I was born too late (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201054)

if only I could live to see through the revolution in medical science that's happening now. I'm probably too old though, being in my 30's, but one day I wouldn't be surprised if limbs and eyes could be regrown, cancer is understood and easily treated, a great number of ills to be cured... sigh, if only time were not an issue.

Well if you believe in Quantum Immortality [wikipedia.org] then chances are you can only exist in a universe that such events happen in which scientific progress lets you exist forever.

As were all those versions of you in those universes which failed to acheive such scientific progress... Well... Died off.

Of course quantum immortality only works for the observer, so in theory since I am writing this post and I am the observer (vs you reading the post and then you are the observer) in my universe, you could die quite easily... And vice versa.

Besides if you are 30, by the time you are 70 it will be 2076 and if you consider all the progress made from 1906 to 1946 it will be at least interesting.

Re:sometimes I feel like I was born too late (4, Funny)

Tyger (126248) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201148)

Besides if you are 30, by the time you are 70 it will be 2076 and if you consider all the progress made from 1906 to 1946 it will be at least interesting.

Wow, a post from the future! What's it like in 2036?

Re:sometimes I feel like I was born too late (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201456)

Wow, a post from the future! What's it like in 2036?

Whoops! Sorry about that!

Either my typing is wrong, or I am a traveler from the future and forgot what year I am in and you won't live long enough to enjoy the benefits of future science.

For those of you over 30 ignore what I just said.
For those of you under 30... Welcome to the world of tomorrow!

Stay the course is working! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17201850)

What's it like in 2036?

The war in Iraq is going really well. Just another few decades according to preznit Jenna.

Imagine the Implications! (0, Offtopic)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 7 years ago | (#17200936)

This means that my ass can change the quantum state of that burrito I had for lunch!

Can I be the first to say... (1, Funny)

ErikTheRed (162431) | more than 7 years ago | (#17200938)

... I think this theory really stinks.

If this is true... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17200954)

My ass must be a quantum computer. I've just computed the square of a taco bells and egg mayonaise bagel. Interesting result, a little damp but these things happen.

tied to quantum physics (2, Insightful)

eobanb (823187) | more than 7 years ago | (#17200966)

Isn't, uhm, everything tied to quantum physics?

Re:tied to quantum physics (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201004)

Well, quantum physics is just a model. We'll probably find out later on down the road that we're all just figments of the highly detailed imagination of a resident of Snarfblatt IV and our "universe" will cease to an end one day as he is run over by a passing Warfleblorter.

*shakes his head* This is why people need to take Warfleblorting safety seriously.

Re:tied to quantum physics (4, Interesting)

Oriumpor (446718) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201052)

A poet once said, "The whole universe is in a glass of wine." We will
probably never know in what sense he meant that, for poets do not write to
be understood. But it is true that if we look at a glass of wine closely
enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the
twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the
reflections in the glass, and our imagination adds the atoms. The glass is
a distillation of the earth's rocks, and in its composition we see the
secrets of the universe's age, and the evolution of stars. What strange
array of chemicals are in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the
ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is
found the great generalization: all life is fermentation. Nobody can
discover the chemistry of wine without discovering, as did Louis Pasteur, the
cause of much disease. How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into
the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some
convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts --
physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on -- remember that
nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting
ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure: drink it
and forget it all!

        - Richard P. Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, v. 1, p. 3-10
            (This lecture is also one of the six lectures featured in a book &
            audio edition entitled "Six Easy Pieces")

Re:tied to quantum physics (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201482)

A poet once said, "The whole universe is in a glass of wine."

This poet obviously never got stoned, otherwise he would know that the Universe is actually in his thumb.

Damn non-hippie.

Subatomic physics, on the other hand, is in beer. (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 7 years ago | (#17202568)

A poet once said, "The whole universe is in a glass of wine."

On the smaller end of things, subatomic physics is in a glass of beer.

For instance: The bubble chamber detector for moving charged particles was invented by a physicist while he was sitting at a restaurant near the University of Michigan and wondering what started the bubbles in the beer forming.

Ultimately, yes, but not immediately (1)

jfengel (409917) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201094)

At the bottom, yes. This is trying to show that QM is involved more directly than the usual explanation.

The usual explanation for smell is the lock-and-key hypothesis: a specific receptor fits a molecule of a specific shape. It's similar to (and in fact related to) the immune response. QM is involved, but only in the way the molecules fold and interact, so the QM is all wrapped up by plain old chemistry.

This explanation invokes QM more directly, in a way that can't be explained by plain old chemistry. It comes down to an observation that different isotopes can smell different (to animals; we have crummy senses of smell). Since the usual chemical interactions aren't affected by different isotopes, and it's unlikely that nuclear forces are involved, that leaves QM.

Re:tied to quantum physics (1)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201246)

Prove it.

You'll get a Nobel prize and a place in history for telling us exactly how.

Re:tied to quantum physics (1)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201366)

Yes and no ;)

Re:tied to quantum physics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17201388)

Actually, yes or no.

Re:tied to quantum physics (1)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201458)

Isn't, uhm, everything tied to quantum physics?

And even a 747 is covered by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The more accurately you know how fast the plane is going, the less sure you are where it is. But, for "real life" the effect is so small for a 747 that it is useless to consider. Newtonian physics is all that's really necessary for the vast majority of regular life. The newer and more accurate descriptions of the universe are usually too complicated and too accurate for real world use.

Re:tied to quantum physics (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201726)

Laying down the semantic guantlet are we?

OK then, I'll pick it up:

The sense of smell cannot be modelled adequately without including quantum phenomena in the model.

Sooner or later the blind watch maker is going to pick some quantum doohickey out of the toolbox.

Quantum tunneling is also involved in the... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17200974)

...development of the brown streaking common in many undergarments, said researchers from the Hanes Institute of Applied Physics.

Doing quantum physics... (1)

NoseBag (243097) | more than 7 years ago | (#17200986)

...with our nose!

That's nothing to sniff at.

That's makes farting sense... (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201000)

...suggests that electron tunneling initiates the smell signal being sent to the brain.

That would explain why I could evacuate a room about 30 seconds before the smell of one of my roommate's horrendous "floorboards" hit everyone else in the room. The bewildered expression on everyone's face when I ran out the room but before they got hit was priceless.

NO Quack (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17201026)

The pig go. Go is to the fountain. The pig put foot. Grunt. Foot in what? ketchup. The dove fly. Fly is in sky. The dove drop something. The something on the pig. The pig disgusting. The pig rattle. Rattle with dove. The dove angry. The pig leave. The dove produce. Produce is chicken wing. With wing bark. No Quack.

Re:NO Quack (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17201278)

Imagine having a neural net create quantum poetry.

That site has alot to answer for.

Shouldn't that be... (1, Offtopic)

TheWoozle (984500) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201036)

...this theory makes scents?

Re:Shouldn't that be... (1)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 7 years ago | (#17202746)

Damn, too bad I already commented. I'd have bumped you up from 0, Offtopic to 1 of 2... SHEESH, where is the HUMOR around here?

Quantum Chemistry (1, Interesting)

opencode (28152) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201038)

The UCL team calculated the rates of electron hopping in a nose receptor that has an odorant molecule bound to it.

--

He had me until this sentence (although the line that he found the theory interesting enough to refute was a very nice touch).

Electrons, photons, and protons are all merely models to explain in tangible terms what the **** is going on down there, so I become skeptical when these terms are utilized to explain/demonstrate quantum mechanics. We know how to use electricity, buy it, sell it, how to protect our kids from it, yet we really don't know what it is. Two and a half degrees in Chemistry has taught me little that's applicable to the English speaking world, save this: we don't have a clue what's going on at that level of reality, but we're absolutely certain it involoves nothing at all that could be described as little balls orbiting other balls and emitting electrical charges. That's merely a model to make sense of it, and an imitation of life at best.

Something else about Quantum Mechanics/Chemistry: If what anyone says doesn't sound medeival, they're probably thinking too hard and incorrectly. It's gotta sound really strange or it's not QM/C.

Re:Quantum Chemistry (1)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201428)

It's gotta sound really strange or it's not QM/C.

And it's gotta be comprehensible to the layman or it'll never get past an editor.

Why don't you read the original paper instead of dismissing the research based on account filtered through the lay media?

Re:Quantum Chemistry (1)

pclminion (145572) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201434)

Electrons, photons, and protons are all merely models to explain in tangible terms what the **** is going on down there, so I become skeptical when these terms are utilized to explain/demonstrate quantum mechanics. We know how to use electricity, buy it, sell it, how to protect our kids from it, yet we really don't know what it is.

I think you're making the classic mistake of, "The math is hard and unlike other math I've seen before, therefore QM is strange and mysterious." It should come as no surprise that objects which are far smaller than we can see or directly measure might behave in ways contrary to our understanding of the macroscopic world. Just because this behavior is new doesn't make it mystical. Saying that we don't know what electricity is is a bit ridiculous. Saying that we can't completely describe the location and momentum of every electron in a wire is a bit more realistic.

After all, the computer I am now typing this message on functions only because of semiconductors. Valence bands, conduction bands, band gaps, etc. All these things were predicted by QM and then exploited for practical use. I think this means we have a very, very good understanding indeed of electricity. The question of what material an electron is actually "made of" or why it behaves how it does aren't really even physical questions, much like asking what makes a banana a banana. And just because things like tunneling and quantization of energy arise from the equations doesn't make them weird.

Re:Quantum Chemistry (3, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201452)

Electrons, photons, and protons are all merely models to explain in tangible terms what the **** is going on down there, so I become skeptical when these terms are utilized to explain/demonstrate quantum mechanics.

Um, okay, we don't know everything about these particles, but all of those things are real things very much like we describe them -- we can count electrons, photons, and protons, and in the latter case we know they are comprised of smaller things called "quarks" that when combined correctly behave very much like the little ball we call the "proton". That's as real as anything. Quantum mechanics describes the behavior of electrons, so I'm confused as to why you would be skeptical that electrons are used to explain quantum mechanics. The topics are rather intricately linked.

I'm quite certain that there are layers upon layers beyond what we know, but at this time we don't know of any way to go deeper than the electron. Hence you're basically asking for something to be described in terms of knowledge that doesn't exist yet, which is impossible.

Re:Quantum Chemistry (2, Informative)

diqrtvpe (929604) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201570)

Now, IANAQP, but I am a Physics student, and I have had reasonable experience with quantum tunneling. From what I've learned, quantum tunneling is most easily described in terms of electons hopping across barriers. The electron has a non-zero probability of being found outside the potential well created by its parent atom/molecule, and (skipping over most of the science and math) this means that there will be a non-zero rate of tunneling from that well to the other wells nearby. Now, in many cases that rate is infinitessimally small, but in a case like this it would be conceivable that the rate could go up to something non-trivial. The molecules would have to get pretty darn close, but if they're bound then that solves the problem. If this were the actual paper, instead of a popular article, you would certainly expect to see a whole lot of nigh-incomprehensible gibberish that explained what exactly they thought was going on. As this was written for a less specialized audience, they simplified it using, as far as I know, one of the standard ways of describing what we think is actually going on.

Re:Quantum Chemistry (2, Informative)

me_mi_mo (1021169) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201836)

You keep repeating that things like photons, electrons and the like are "merely models". I have to take issue with this, as they happen to be effective models.

I would *love* to see how you would *begin* to explain how light and matter interact at a *fundamental* level, without using the concept of electrons and photons.

These guys are not cranks - the (free, as in beer) preprint [arxiv.org] seems to be a pretty typical quantum transport paper, albeit with a slightly "sexed up" angle.

Models are good, if they work.

Re:Quantum Chemistry (1)

chreekat (467943) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201996)

Well, don't forget that one of the concepts that makes QM so weird is that "things" (unfortunate terminology) aren't particles or waves of energy... they are both. Since this is weird, you have 'electron clouds' that represent probability or 'orbitals' that represent the different energy distributions in a quantized way, etc. etc., all trying to describe reality.

Anyway, the point is that electrons "are"/"can be" distinct, quantized doohickeys, so saying that 'the electron hopped' isn't physically inaccurate. If you have a bunch of free electrons cruising on one side of an insulator, individual electrons will pass through it by tunneling. I.e. their wave function extends through the insulator, so it can be 'found' there.

I used to know the empirically-derived equations that could model this, but... not now. :)

Re:Quantum Chemistry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17202546)

Electrons, photons, and protons are all merely models to explain in tangible terms what the **** is going on down there

Way to overcomplicate things. I know. It's geek nature. I'll try explaining it in more basic terms. When two people love each other... Um... How does that go again? There was a part about fluid exchange, but I don't remember where the stork comes in... Before, After or... During?

Okay, let's get this out of the way.... (1)

Itninja (937614) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201058)

...by biophysicist Luca Turin
I hear his (her?) work is SHROUDED in mystery. Zing!
I'm here are week folks....

Busted webpage? (1)

Antony-Kyre (807195) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201090)

Anyone else experiencing the webpage reloading itself endlessly?

Go to http://www.nature.com/news/2006/061204/pf/061204-1 0_pf.html [nature.com]

Re:Busted webpage? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17202306)

No, I'm using Firefox, not IE [/flame bait]

Credit to Richard Lederer (1)

edp (171151) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201092)

"The article concludes, 'At the very least, he is putting his money where his nose is.'"

His scents sense makes cents.

Nose candy (1, Funny)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201730)

His scents sense makes cents.

Really? To me, "putting his money where his nose is," is more easily interpreted as a euphemism meaning he's addicted to cocaine, and thus is a turn of phrase that should be avoided unless you want to be sued.

Penrose and Quantum Consciousness (1)

DoninIN (115418) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201114)

Wasn't one of the rebuttals to Penrose's books that there couldn't be any quantum processes at work in the brain because of (reason X)[1] I wonder if anyone knows enough to comment on this? 1: Basically quantum effects were supposed to be too small? I really can't remember.

Re:Penrose and Quantum Consciousness (2, Informative)

chreekat (467943) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201818)

Sure, I'll take a swing at it (my credentials are shaky -- a BS in computational physics). This theory says that tunneling, a quantum mechanical process, lets an electron jump into the nervous system. That's equivalent to saying that a quantum mechanical process causes an electric current... something the nervous system uses extensively. I don't know if a single electron would be enough to trigger a signal, but two possibilities for the theory are (1) it *is* enough, (2) more than one electron tunnels.

Please excuse my undergraduate hand-waving. ;)

Re:Penrose and Quantum Consciousness (2, Interesting)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 7 years ago | (#17202636)

I think the point of the criticisms of Penrose isn't over whether quantum-mechanical stuff is going on, but whether quantum-mechanical wierdness (such as entanglement) is involved in the brain's computations or whether they can be fully explained by the classical physics and chemistry approximations (and can thus be adequately modeled by algorithms run on ordinary computers rather than requiring a quantum computer).

Why quantum? (1)

asadodetira (664509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201194)

Quantum level models are very limited in the lengthscales and timescales they are able to model. Shouldn't they first try a slightly less microscopic explanation, based in molecular dynamics that should be easier to verify. You still can have rich dynamics, with vibrations and rotations and diffusion and changes in configuration that might account for the different interactions between the receptor and the odorant.

Re:Why quantum? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17201574)

There's not a big difference in the "size" of these processes, so "less microscopic" makes no sense.
Molecular vibrations are on the same scale as straight-up chemistry - arguably larger, it's not really clearly defined.

Can't just be vibrational tunneling (1)

imkonen (580619) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201376)

It's a cool theory, but it can't be the only affect, because it doesn't explain how different enantiomers of the same molecule could smell different. Carvone [wikipedia.org] for example, smells like caraway or spearmint depending on which of two mirror image forms it's in. Each of these forms has the identical vibrations (both in terms of frequency, atomic displacement, and transition dipole), but would "lock in" differently with biological molecules, almost all of which are chiral (and pure enantiomers). The "shape specificity" hypothesis fits better with this observation. Of course it could still be a combination of the two. Once lodged on the surface of the receptor, the vibrations of the enantiomers are perturbed differently by the interactions with the enantiomeric receptor, leading to a separation of the vibational frequencies, but at that point I think you'd still have to argue that the shape is important.

I believe it (1)

Fear the Clam (230933) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201418)

The guy on the subway tonight had some serious quantum funk coming off him. It's as though every particle was trying desperately to get away and warn the others.

Re:I believe it (1)

bishiraver (707931) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201878)

You weren't on the 5 train uptown between grand central and 59th st, were you?

If so, I think we saw the same guy...

Re:I believe it (1)

Fear the Clam (230933) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201982)

As a matter of fact, I was.

I think it was the great philosopher Morpheous (1)

phreakincool (975248) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201676)

who said it best. "You think that's air you're breathing? Hmmm."

nnrgh... (1)

TobyRush (957946) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201704)

[Trying to figure out some "+5 funny" remark tying this to quark "flavors"]

Orz was right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17201714)

*Happy Campers* do *smell* the best.

Strange? Charm? (1)

Cryolithic (563545) | more than 7 years ago | (#17201798)

Gives a whole new meaning to strange or charming smells!

Ugggh! (1)

netglen (253539) | more than 7 years ago | (#17202036)

You changed the outcome by observing it's smell.

Grave Discrepency (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17202044)

"determined that the quantum physics involved makes sense. "

That would imply that one could make sense of any quantum physics. If you can make sense of it--you're clinically insane and shouldn't be left free to roam the internet.

Nothing to see here... (1)

xactuary (746078) | more than 7 years ago | (#17202396)

What's up with all this talk of nose tunneling? If you did it while driving your car to work today, I've got news for you: Someone saw it.

Reality tied to quantum physics? (1)

bgspence (155914) | more than 7 years ago | (#17202492)

Nah...

I'm coming up with a theory that the quality of (1)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 7 years ago | (#17202652)

scex is based on the durability, flexibility and viscosity of the quantum slipstream (thank you "Star Trek" with all the techno babble...). Then my mind thought of Mr. Ears... "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pounded weak and weary..." when Charlie hexed me....

I have determined that the physicality, umm, err, the physics involved make scents... umm, sense, but legally, it does not pay to do this research to make cents.

Energy can be derived from various forms of matter, possibly even dark matter. But, let's for now lighten up the matter.

The verisimilitude of the vibratory effects only cause rash... umm, rationalization the matter. However, there will be others whose own findings will only serve to compound each others observations and distinked... umm, distinct findings.

Collectively, we may rise to being cunninglinguists....

captcha: careen (which is what this post is about to do....)

More Quantum physics? (1)

ParraCida (1018494) | more than 7 years ago | (#17202748)

What fascinates me most about this subject is that our biological body figured out a way to make use of quantum physics. If this turns out to be true, it could really revolutionalise the way we see the human body, and even life itself. I saw a lecture the other day of another neuroscientist proclaiming he found evidence of quantum entanglement in the human brain, in parts that are supposedly linked to our conscience. How the hell does a biologal organism know about quantum entanglement? I ask you! (if it turns out to be true that is)

I mean, it might just be a sign of the times. We start to get a grasp on how quantum physics work, and suddenly evidence for quantummechanics is found everywhere. But still, it is interesting.

It might even make sense. Our body makes use of normal physics to operate, so why not quantum physics right? Except I never really got how our bodies, or life for that matter, managed to figure out the universe. Sure, we'll use positive ions to seperate the H2O from our intestines! All electrons please use the neural pathways to travel and carry messages for us!

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