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Old 03-29-07, 12:01 PM   #1
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why doesn't water smell?

Seriously. This is for the chemistry and biology and physics people out there.

Why can't we smell water? It's a small enough molecule. It has a distinct vibration and shape (depending on which theory of smell you subscribe to). So why can't we smell it? Or why are some molecules odorless?
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Old 03-29-07, 12:03 PM   #2
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Try smelling water from a well that is full of "minerals".
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Old 03-29-07, 12:04 PM   #3
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water does smell....

stick your head in a tub of water and take a REALLY BIG SNIFF.....
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Old 03-29-07, 12:06 PM   #4
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You've never smelled water on the air right before a big shower, or when water hits hot pavement and evaporates? I'm not sure of the exact mechanism. You may be smelling side products, such as salts absorbed by the water. But the human nose can sense the presence of water.

Now, other gasses, like methane for example, have no odor to our nose. It's not food nor would we have ever really run into it in pre-civilization life, so why should we have ever had the need to develope receptors in our noses to sense it?
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Old 03-29-07, 12:09 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by KingTermite
Try smelling water from a well that is full of "minerals".
Right, but that's the minerals and other molecules dissolved in the water carried to our noses. It's not the water.
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Old 03-29-07, 12:13 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by explody pup
You've never smelled water on the air right before a big shower, or when water hits hot pavement and evaporates? I'm not sure of the exact mechanism. You may be smelling side products, such as salts absorbed by the water. But the human nose can sense the presence of water.

Now, other gasses, like methane for example, have no odor to our nose. It's not food nor would we have ever really run into it in pre-civilization life, so why should we have ever had the need to develope receptors in our noses to sense it?
But we can smell things that were never around during pre-civilization life. There are thousands of synthetics out there that we have no specific receptors for. And our receptors can smell new things without, like our immune system has to, taking time to figure out how to smell it. We smell new molecules instantly. And in no way is this an ID question. I'd go over to P&R if I wanted to debate that.

Maybe because we are mostly water, we evolved so that we blocked it out. I don't know.
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Old 03-29-07, 12:16 PM   #7
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Dessert animals can smell water - so water smells, we just don't do a good job of smelling it ourselves.
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Old 03-29-07, 12:16 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Cromulent
But we can smell things that were never around during pre-civilization life. There are thousands of synthetics out there that we have no specific receptors for. And our receptors can smell new things without, like our immune system has to, taking time to figure out how to smell it. We smell new molecules instantly. And in no way is this an ID question. I'd go over to P&R if I wanted to debate that.

Maybe because we are mostly water, we evolved so that we blocked it out. I don't know.
I don't know. My shot in the dark guess is that our noses are tuned to pick up on more complex organic molecules and the synthetics being produced today fall within the range of detection.

As for water, I don't think we ever really needed to develope a way to smell it since there is no such thing as "pure water" in nature. It always has some impurity that we can pick up on.
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Old 03-29-07, 12:25 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by explody pup
I don't know. My shot in the dark guess is that our noses are tuned to pick up on more complex organic molecules and the synthetics being produced today fall within the range of detection.

As for water, I don't think we ever really needed to develope a way to smell it since there is no such thing as "pure water" in nature. It always has some impurity that we can pick up on.
We can smell 03, which is a pretty simple and non-organic molecule. But we can't smell O2. O2 has a double bond, but O3 has two single bonds. I don't know if that's important or not.

(And I'm not arguing with you to be argumentative or difficult, I am really interested in the answer.)
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Old 03-29-07, 12:29 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Cromulent
We can smell 03, which is a pretty simple and non-organic molecule. But we can't smell O2. O2 has a double bond, but O3 has two single bonds. I don't know if that's important or not.

(And I'm not arguing with you to be argumentative or difficult, I am really interested in the answer.)
Another shot in the dark might be permiability of certain gases across whatever membrane they have to get across to trigger the sense of smell.

Or maybe O2 does have a smell, but we're constantly breathing it so it gets cancelled out as background noise. Same with water. And then more exotic odors, like ozone, trigger a response because it's an outlier in our environment.
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Old 03-29-07, 12:29 PM   #11
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I smell water, it smells like.... well, umm, like....... water.
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Old 03-29-07, 12:30 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by explody pup
Another shot in the dark might be permiability of certain gases across whatever membrane they have to get across to trigger the sense of smell.

Or maybe O2 does have a smell, but we're constantly breathing it so it gets cancelled out as background noise. Same with water. And then more exotic odors, like ozone, trigger a response because it's an outlyer in our environment.
I like it. We cancel out background sounds all the time. Makes sense.
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Old 03-29-07, 12:36 PM   #13
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No carbon or sulphur in a water molecule.
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Old 03-29-07, 12:38 PM   #14
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No carbon or sulphur in a water molecule.

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Old 03-29-07, 12:40 PM   #15
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No carbon or sulphur in a water molecule.
Very true. But we can smell molecules that don't have carbon or suphur in them.
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Old 03-29-07, 12:43 PM   #16
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Quote:
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Very true. But we can smell molecules that don't have carbon or suphur in them.
Like the nacho molecule?

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Old 03-29-07, 12:44 PM   #17
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Like the nacho molecule?

Lots of carbon in there.
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Old 03-29-07, 12:50 PM   #18
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Quote:
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Dessert animals can smell water - so water smells, we just don't do a good job of smelling it ourselves.
Actually people can smell water reasonably well. It is just that smell is a sense that the mind tunes out after a while. Water is pretty much always there, just the percentage changes. But go out somewhere dry for a while so the nose gets used to almost no water and then head toward a water source and you can smell it. Of course many city folks have no idea what they are smelling.
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Old 03-29-07, 03:38 PM   #19
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I agree with the idea that we simply block out the smell, since we are exposed to water so much. Your Olfacere nerves simply stop responding to it.
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Old 03-29-07, 03:45 PM   #20
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Ammonia has no carbon or sulphur in it, and we certainly can smell that.
Same with chlorine.
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Old 03-29-07, 04:12 PM   #21
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When I lived in Cleveland during the 70's the water smelled bad.
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Old 03-29-07, 07:44 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cromulent
Seriously. This is for the chemistry and biology and physics people out there.

Why can't we smell water? It's a small enough molecule. It has a distinct vibration and shape (depending on which theory of smell you subscribe to). So why can't we smell it? Or why are some molecules odorless?
Salt water, mineral water and that flavored water stuff if that counts.
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Old 03-29-07, 07:45 PM   #23
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Salt water, mineral water and that flavored water stuff if that counts.
Sugar, Spice, and everything nice?
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Old 03-29-07, 08:02 PM   #24
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water has very distinctive smells depending upon the chemicals that are in it and the temperature.
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Old 03-29-07, 10:03 PM   #25
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As far as I know, our nose simply isn't tuned to react to water. Specifically, the water doesn't bond to any of the olfactory nerves, so there's no response. I can't seem to confirm this however, via Google.

This kind of makes sense. Our breath is high humidity and the nerves would almost be constantly firing.
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