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Olfaction: The Sense of Smell

Tracer Bullet 11-1



Photo: woman smelling a perfume bottle.

French perfumes advertisement,
with Art Nouveau illustrations.
Prints & Photographs Division,
Library of Congress


Olfaction – the sense of smell – is a form of chemoreception, the biological recognition of chemical stimuli, by which living organisms collect information about their environments. The importance of the sense varies in different types of animals – in most mammals it is quite well developed among those that are either predator or prey and is highly developed in those that depend on smell to find food. Dogs are famous for their excellent sense of smell which is approximately a thousand times more sensitive than that of a human.

How the brain perceives a particular chemical is both a physiological and a psychological phenomenon. The sensory cells in the nose convert chemical signals into electrical signals and the brain recognizes and interprets these signals as pleasurable or repellant or something in between, and these may then result in emotions or memories.

This guide is a review of the literature and vetted online resources on the subject of smell. It is designed, as the name of the series implies, to put the reader ‘on target.’ This and other recent Tracer Bullets are available in print and also online from Science Reference Services at: //



Cain, William. Olfaction. In McGraw-Hill encyclopedia of science & technology. 10th ed. v. 10. New York, McGraw-Hill, c2007. p. 337-341.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   Q121.M3 2007 <SciRR>

Koster, Egon Peter. The specific characteristics of the sense of smell. In Olfaction, taste, and cognition. Edited by Catherine Rouby and others. New York, Cambridge University Press, c2002. p. 27-44.
   QP456.O445 2002



SUBJECT HEADINGS used by the Library of Congress, under which materials can be located in most card, book and online catalogs, include the following:

Highly Relevant



   See also as subdivision ODOR, e.g., FLOWERS – ODOR, FOOD – ODOR, etc.



More General




Curtis, Tony, and David G. Williams. Introduction to perfumery. 2nd ed. Port Washington, N. Y., Micelle Press, c2001. 778 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   TP983.C98 2001 <SciRR>

Vroon, P. A., Anton van Amerongen, and Hans de Vries. Smell: the secret seducer. New York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997. 226 p.
   Bibliography: p. 211-226.
   QP458.V757 1997



Gimella, Salvatore Paul. Aroma science. Port Washington, N. Y., Micelle Press, c2001.
   Bibliography: p. 221-224.
   TP958.G57 2001 <SciRR>

The Human sense of smell. D. G. Laing, R. L. Doty, and W. Breipohl, editors. Berlin, New York, Springer-Verlag, c1991. 395 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   QP458.H86 1991

Teisseire, Paul José. Chemistry of fragrant substances. New York, VCH, c1994. 458 p.
   Bibliography: p. 433-449.
   TP983.T44513 1994

Wright, R. H. The sense of smell. Boca Raton, FL, CRC Press, c1982. 236 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   QP458.W73 1982



Chemistry and technology of flavors and fragrances. Edited by David J. Rowe. Oxford, Blackwell, 2005. 336 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   TP418.C47 2005

Gilbert, Avery N. What the nose knows: the science of scent in everyday life. New York, Crown Publishers, c2008. 290 p.
   Bibliography: p. 241-280.
   QP458.G535 2008 <SciRR>

Glaser, Gabrielle. The nose: a profile of sex, beauty, and survival. New York, Atria Books, c2002. 262 p.
   Bibliography: p. 252-260.
   QP458.G536 2002

Le Guérer, Annick. Scent: the mysterious and essential powers of smell. New York, Kodansha International, 1994. 260 p.
   Bibliography: p. 219-247.
   QP458.L4413 1994

The Smell culture reader. Edited by Jim Drobnick. English ed. Oxford, New York, Berg, 2006. 442 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   GN279.S64 2006

Tastes & aromas : the chemical senses in science and industry. Edited by Graham A. Bell and Annesley J. Watson. Sydney, Australia, Malden, Mass., UNSW Press/Blackwell Science, 1999. 214 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   QP455 .T385 1999

Tasting and smelling. Edited by Gary K. Beauchamp and Linda Bartoshuk. San Diego, Academic Press, c1997. 231 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   QP456.T372 1997



Cognition & Perception

Engen, Trygg. The perception of odors. New York, Academic Press, 1982. 202 p.
   Bibliography: p. 173-195.
   QP458.E53 1982

Memory for odors. Edited by Frank R. Schab and Robert G. Crowder. Mahwah, NJ, L. Erlbaum Associates, 1995. 187 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   QP458.M45 1995

Wilson, Donald A., and Richard J. Stevenson. Learning to smell: olfactory perception from neurobiology to behavior. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. 309 p.
   Bibliography: p. 265-297.
   QP458.W52 2006 <SciRR>

Zucco, Gesualdo M. Odor memory: the unique nature of a memory system. In Speaking of colors and odors. Edited by Martina Plümacher and Peter Holz. Amsterdam, Philadelphia, John Benjamins Pub., c2007. p. 155-165.
   P120.C65S68 2007

Detection & Measurement

Electronic noses & sensors for the detection of explosives. Edited by Julian W. Gardner and Jehuda Yinon. Dordrecht, Boston, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Published in cooperation with NATO Scientific Affairs Division, c2004. 308 p. (NATO science series. Series II, Mathematics, physics, and chemistry, v. 159)
   Includes bibliographical references.
   TP159.C46E555 2004

Gardner, J. W., and Philip N. Bartlett. Electronic noses: principles and applications. Oxford, New York, Oxford University Press, c1999. 245 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   TP159.C46G37 1999

Psillakis, Elefteria. Odor measurement. In Odors in the food industry. Edited by Xavier Nicolay. New York, Springer, c2006. p. 15-39.
   TX546.O36 2006

Odor Classification

Harper, Roland, E. C. Bate-Smith, and D. G. Land. Odour description and odour classification: a multidisciplinary examination. London, Churchill, 1968. 191 p.
   Bibliography: p. 168-177.

Poucher, W. A. Odour classification and fixation. In his The production, manufacture, and application of perfumes. 9th ed. London, New York, Chapman and Hall, 1993. p. 46-67.
   TP983.P723 vol. 2 1993 <SciRR>


Conover, Michael R. Predator-prey dynamics: the role of olfaction. Boca Raton, FL, CRC Press, c2007. 248 p.
   Bibliography: p. 205-221.
   QL758.C69 2007

Handbook of olfaction and gustation. Edited by Richard L. Doty. 2nd ed., rev. and expanded. New York, Marcel Dekker, c2003. 1121 p. (Neurological disease and therapy, 32)
   Includes bibliographical references.
   QP455.H36 2003 <SciRR>

Mammalian olfaction, reproductive processes, and behavior. Edited by Richard L. Doty. New York, Academic Press, 1976. 344 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.

Olfaction, taste, and cognition. Edited by Catherine Rouby and others. New York, Cambridge University Press, c2002. 462 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   QP456.O445 2002

Watson, Lyall. Jacobson's organ and the remarkable nature of smell. New York, W. W. Norton, 2000. 255 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   Originally published: London, England, Penguin, 1999.
   QP458.W38 2000

Perfumes & Perfumery

Aftel, Mandy. Essence and alchemy: a book of perfume. New York, North Point Press, 2001. 244 p.
   Bibliography: p. 215-236.
   TP983.A72 2001

Burr, Chandler. The emperor of scent: a story of perfume, obsession, and the last mystery of the senses. New York, Random House, c2002. 318 p.
   QP458.B83 2002

Groom, N. St. J. Perfume: the ultimate guide to the world’s finest fragrances. Philadelphia, Running Press, c1999. 192 p.
   Bibliography: p. 190.
   TP983.G74 1999 <SciRR>

Perfumery: the psychology and biology of fragrance. Edited by Steve van Toller and George H. Dodd. London, New York, Chapman and Hall, 1988. 268 p.
   Bibliography: p. 235-256.
   TP983.P36 1988

Perfumes: art, science, and technology. Edited by P. M. Muller and D. Lamparsky. London, New York, Elsevier Applied Science, c1991. 658 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   TP983.P365 1991 <SciRR>

Piesse, G. W. Septimus. Piesse’s art of perfumery, and the methods of obtaining the odours of plants, the growth and general flower farm system of raising fragrant herbs, with instructions for the manufacture of perfumes for the handkercheif, scented powders, odorous vinegars and salts, snuff, dentifrices, cosmetics, perfumed soap, etc. 5th ed. London, Piesse and Lubin, 1891. 498 p.
   First edition, 1855.
   TP983.P64 <SciRR>

Turin, Luca, and Tania Sanchez. Perfumes: the guide. New York, Viking, 2008. 384 p.
   TP983.T869 2008 <SciRR>


Barbara, Anna, and Anthony Perliss. Invisible architecture: experiencing places through the sense of smell. Milano, Skira, 2006. 223 p.
   Bibliography: p. 216-218.
   NA2543.S6B345 2006 <Ft. Meade>

Bowles, E. Joy. The A-Z of essential oils: what they are, where they come from, how they work. Hauppauge, NY, Barron’s, 2003. 160 p.
   Bibliography: p. 160.
   RM666.A68B69 2003 <SciRR>

Clarke, Sue. Essential chemistry for safe aromatherapy. Edinburgh, New York, Churchill Livingstone, 2002. 231 p.
   Bibliography: p. 199-201.
   QD416.C67 2002 <SciRR>

Fish chemosenses. Editors, Klaus Reutter and B. G. Kapoor. Enfield, NH, Science Publishers, c2005. 343 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   QL639.1.F5524 2005

Flavor perception. Edited by Andrew J. Taylor and Deborah Roberts. Oxford, Ames, IA, Blackwell Pub., c2004. 283 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   QP456.F56 2004

Flavour and fragrance chemistry. Edited by Virginia Lanzotti and Orazio Taglialatela-Scafati. Dordrecht, Boston, Kluwer Academic Publishers, c2000. 256 p. (Proceedings of the Phytochemical Society of Europe, 46)
   Includes bibliographical references.
   TP418.F535 2000

Food taints and off-flavours. Edited by M. J. Saxby. 2nd ed. London, New York, Blackie Academic & Professional, 1996. 326 p.
   Includes bibliographical references
   TX531.F57 1996

Lawless, Harry T., and Hildegarde Heymann. Sensory evaluation of food: principles and practices. New York, Chapman & Hall, c1998. 819 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   TX546.L38 1998

Wyatt, Tristram D. Pheromones and animal behaviour: communication by smell and taste. Cambridge, Eng., New York, Cambridge University Press, 2003. 391 p.
   Bibliography: p. 310-358.
   QL776.W93 2003



Groom, N. St. J. The new perfume handbook. 2nd ed. London, New York, Blackie Academic & Professional, 1997. 435 p.
   Bibliography: p. 433-435.
   TP983.G75 1997 <SciRR>

Handbook of chemical and biological sensors. Edited by Richard F. Taylor and Jerome S. Schultz. Bristol, Philadelphia, Institute of Physics Pub., c1996. 604 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   TP159.C46H36 1996 <SciRR>

Handbook of machine olfaction: electronic nose technology. Edited by T. C. Pearce and others. Weinheim, Germany, Wiley-VCH, c2003. 592 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   TP159.C46H38 2003

Poucher, W. A. The production, manufacture, and application of perfumes. 9th ed. London, New York, Chapman and Hall, 1993. 379 p. (Perfumes, cosmetics, and soaps, v. 2)
   TP983.P723 vol. 2 1993 <SciRR>

Poucher, W. A. The raw materials of perfumery. Edited and revised by A. J. Jouhar. 9th ed. London, New York, Chapman & Hall, 1991. 349 p. (Poucher’s perfumes, cosmetics, and soaps, v. 1)
   TP983.P723 vol.1 1991 <SciRR>

Poucher’s perfumes, cosmetics, and soaps. 10th ed. Edited by Hilda Butler. Dordrecht, Boston, Kluwer Academic Publishers, c2000. 782 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   Rev. ed. of v. 3 of: Perfumes, cosmetics, and soaps. W. A. Poucher. 1974-c1993.
   TP983.P723 2000 <SciRR>



Conference proceedings may provide more up-to-date information than is available in other published sources. Individual papers may be indexed in Proceedings in Print, Conference Papers Index, Index to Scientific or Technical Proceedings, or Papers First. Following is a selection of recent conference proceedings.

Advances in flavours and fragrances: from the sensation to the synthesis. Edited by Karl A. D. Swift. Cambridge, Eng., Royal Society of Chemistry, c2002. 229 p. (Special publication (Royal Society of Chemistry, no. 277))
   Includes bibliographical references.
   Contains 16 of the twenty papers presented at Flavours and Fragrances 2001: From the Sensation to the Synthesis, held on 16-18 May 2001 at the University of Warwick, Coventry, England.
   TP418.A36 2002

International Symposium on Olfaction and the Electronic Nose (8th, 2001, Washington, DC) Artificial chemical sensing: olfaction and the electronic nose (ISOEN 2001): proceedings of the eighth international symposium. Editors, J. R. Stetter and W. R. Penrose. Pennington, NJ, Electrochemical Society, c2001. 230 p. (Proceedings of the Electrochemical Society,v. 2001-15)
   Includes bibliographical references
   TP159.C46I59 2001

Perspectives in flavor and fragrance research. Philip Kraft and Karl A. D. Swift, editors. Zürich, Helvetica Chimica Acta; Weinheim, Germany, Wiley-VCH, c2005. 242 p.
   Includes bibliographical references.
   Proceedings book of the "F&F 2004" meeting held 12th-14th May at the UMIST Conference Centre, Manchester, England.
   TP983.A429 2005



Technical Reports & Grey Literature are indexed and archived by several government clearinghouses and many are available online in full-text at no cost. The National Technical Information Service (NTIS) index provides access to many reports held in the LC Technical Reports Collection. The LC Electronic Resources Web page has an extensive list of both subscription and open-access indexes for identifying Technical Reports & Standards: For more information ask a reference librarian for assistance, or contact the Technical Reports Section: //

Selected Technical Reports

Anholt, Robert R. Molecular mechanisms of odor recognition. Raleigh, North Carolina State Univ., July 2000. 72 p.

Bower, James M., and others. Understanding olfaction: from detection to classification. Pasadena, California Institute of Technology, May 2004. 60 p.

Dalton, P. Odors, deployment stress and health: a conditioning analysis of Gulf War Syndrome. Philadelphia, Monell Chemical Senses Center, Sept. 2006. 60 p.

Rinberg, Dmitri, Alexei Koulakov, and Alan Gelperin. Speed-accuracy tradeoff in olfaction. Philadelphia, Monell Chemical Senses Center, Aug. 2006. 13 p.

Zurada, Jacek M., Andy G. Lozowski, and Mykola Lysetskiy. Modeling of spatial and temporal dynamics in biological olfactory systems. Louisville Univ. Research Foundation, Inc., KY, Office of Grants Management, Sept. 2007. 111 p.



Dissertations are also important research tools that are often neglected because users do not know how to search for or locate them. Both technical reports and dissertations describe research results that have been completed or report research in progress. Dissertations are generally well footnoted and are often the consequence of extensive research into a relatively specialized field. They may be identified by using the following indexes, located in the Main Reading Room, or by searching relevant electronic subscription databases; consult a librarian for assistance.

Comprehensive Dissertation Index. Supplement. (1973- annual)

Digital Dissertations (1980-)
   Electronic resource

Selected Dissertations

Carlsson, Frida Josefine. Subjective annoyance attributed to electrical equipments and smells: Epidemiology and stress physiology. Ann Arbor, MI, UMI, 2005.
   UMI Publication Number AAT C820200
   Collation of the original: 161 p.
   Thesis (doctoral)--Lunds Universitet (Sweden), 2005.

Coleman, Eliza A. Smell identification deficits in deficit syndrome schizophrenia. Ann Arbor, MI, UMI, 2005.
   UMI Publication Number AAT 3195434
   Collation of the original: 113 p.
   Thesis (doctoral)--New York University, 2005.

Schafer, James Robert Alan. The application of functional magnetic resonance imaging to the study of odor coding in the rodent olfactory bulb. Ann Arbor, MI, UMI, 2006.
   UMI Publication Number AAT 3214293
   Collation of the original: 378 p.
   Thesis (doctoral)--Yale University, 2006.

Spencer, Brandon S. The effects of computerized smell on memory. Ann Arbor, MI, UMI, 2006.
   UMI Publication Number AAT 3206005
   Collation of the original: 105 p.
   Thesis (doctoral)--Nova Southeastern University, 2006.

Wong, Allan Ming-Tak. Odor representations in the Drosophila brain. Ann Arbor, MI, UMI, 2005.
   UMI Publication Number AAT 3159764
   Collation of the original: 169 p.
   Thesis (doctoral)--Columbia University, 2005.



Abstracting and indexing that index relevant journal articles and other periodical literature, conference papers and proceedings, book reviews, government reports and other literature are listed below. For the current status and availability of any of the electronic format resources listed below, go to For more information consult a reference librarian.

LC-access A&Is: Print and Electronic Format

Applied Science & Technology Index (1913- )
   Z7913.I7 <SciRR A&I> & Electronic format

Biological & Agricultural Index (1916- )
   Z5073.A46 <SciRR A&I> & Electronic format

BioOne (1920- )
   Electronic format

Conference Papers Index (1960- )
   Electronic format

CSA Technology Research Database (1962- )
   Electronic format

Ei Compendex (Ovid) (1980- )
   Electronic format

Environment Complete (1950s- )
   Electronic format

Papers First (1993- )
   Electronic format

General Science Full Text (1984- )
   Electronic format

Government Reports Announcements & Index (1946-1996)
   (see also NTIS Bibliographic Database)
   Z7916.G78 <SciRR>

INSPEC (1969- )
   Electronic format

NTIS Bibliographic Database (1964- )
   Microfiche <SciRR> & Electronic format

Science Citation Index (1945- )
   Z7401.S365 <SciRR> & Electronic format

Open-access A&Is: All Electronic Format

ACS Publications
American Chemical Society



Journals that often contain relevant articles include the following:

Biological Psychiatry RC321.B55
BioScience QH1.A277
Chemical & Engineering News
Current Biology QH301.C85
Journal of Neuroscience QP351.J65
Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health RA1190.J97



Bennetto, Loisa, Emily S. Kuschner, and Susan L. Hyman. Olfaction and taste processing in autism. Biological psychiatry, v. 62, Nov. 2007: 1015-1021.

de Gennes, P.-G. Organization of a primitive memory: olfaction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 101, Nov. 2, 2004: 15778-15781.
   Full text online:

Di Nucci, Claudia, and others. A measurement system for odor classification based on the dynamic response of QCM sensors. IEEE transactions on instrumentation and measurement, v. 52, Aug. 2003: 1079-1086.

Grabenhorst, Fabian, and others. How pleasant and unpleasant stimuli combine in different brain regions: odor mixtures. Journal of neuroscience, v. 27, Dec. 5, 2007: 13532-13540.

Keller, Andreas, and others. Genetic variation in a human odorant receptor alters odour perception. Nature, v. 449, Sept. 27, 2007: 468-472.

Khan, Rehan M., and others. Predicting odor pleasantness from odorant structure: pleasantness as a reflection of the physical world. Journal of neuroscience, v. 27, Sept. 12, 2007: 10015-10023.

Loutfi, Amy, and Silvia Coradeschi. Odor recognition for intelligent systems. IEEE intelligent systems, v. 23, Jan./Feb. 2008: 41-48.
   QA76.76.E95 I35

McLaughlin, Nicole C. R., and Holly James Westervelt. Odor identification deficits in frontotemporal dementia: a preliminary study. Archives of clinical neuropsychology, v. 23, Jan. 2008: 119-123.
   Not in LC

Reisch, Marc S. Building a better nose. Chemical & engineering news, v. 86, Mar. 31, 2008: 18-19.

Shepherd, Gordon M. Smell images and the flavour system in the human brain. Nature, v. 444, Nov. 16, 2006: 316-321.

Strous Rael D., and Yehuda Shoenfeld. To smell the immune system: olfaction, autoimmunity and brain involvement. Autoimmunity reviews, v. 6, Nov. 2006: 54-60.
   Not in LC

van Thriel, Christoph, and others. Odor annoyance of environmental chemicals: sensory and cognitive influences. Journal of toxicology & environmental health: Part A, v. 71, June 2008: 776-785.

Yamazaki, Kunio, and others. Odortypes: their origin and composition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, v. 96, Feb. 16, 1999: 1522-1525.



Selected materials available in the Science Reading Room pamphlet box on the subject of olfaction include:

Angier, Natalie. The nose, an emotional time machine. New York times, Aug. 5, 2008: F1.

Dennis, Carina. The sweet smell of success. Nature, v. 428, Mar. 25, 2004: 362-364.

Gross, Liza. A genetic basis for hypersensitivity to "sweaty" odors in humans. PLoS biology, v. 5, Nov. 2007: e298.
Full text online:

Stix, Gary. Scent prospectors: Scent Trek, a device which senses odors. Scientific American, v. 276, May 1997: 28-30.

Takagi, Sadayuki F. Appendix: the art of smell. In his Human olfaction. Tokyo, University of Tokyo Press, 1989: 453-466.



Association for Chemoreception Sciences
   International association that advances understanding of the senses of taste and smell. Encourages basic, clinical, and applied research in the chemical senses (gustation, olfaction and trigeminal sensation). Promotes an appreciation of chemosensory research, represent the interests of the chemosensory research community, and serves as a resource for those requiring chemosensory expertise.

Monell Chemical Senses Center
3500 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-3308
Tel.: (267) 519-4700
Fax: (215) 898-2084
Email: [email protected]
   A non-profit independent scientific institute dedicated to interdisciplinary basic research on the senses of taste, smell, and chemosensory irritation.



Basenotes is an online reference guide to the world of fragrances. The site features a fully searchable database of over 10,000 fragrances with over 30,000 consumer reviews.

The Fragrance Foundation
   Focused on the fragrance industry; many useful and interesting resources on this site.

Now Smell This
   A blog about perfume. Regular topics include fragrance reviews, news, interviews, perfume shopping tips, and new & upcoming fragrance releases.
   Site Publisher: Firmenich & Cie S.A.S. Another site devoted to perfume and fragrance. Aimed at both consumers and professionals, osMoz offers perfume-based content in five languages: English, French, German, Italian and Spanish

The Sense of Smell Institute
   Research and education division of The Fragrance Foundation.

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