Smell of Rain

Petrichor is the earthy fragrance produced when rain falls on soil or stone after a long period of warm, dry weather. It comes from the Greek “petra” meaning stone, and “ichor”, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.

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Petrichor was named by Australian researchers in 1964, who described it as a combination of plant oils and the chemical compound geosmin which are released from the soil when it rains. Geosmin is a bicyclic alcohol with the formula C12H22O, a derivative of decalin.

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It was also romanticised by Shakespeare in a sonnet:

Love comforteth like sunshine after rain,
But Lust’s effect is tempest after sun.
Love’s gentle spring doth always fresh remain;
Lust’s winter comes ere summer half be done.
Love surfeits not, Lust like a glutton dies;
Love is all truth, Lust full of forged lies.

In 2015, scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, used high-speed cameras to show how the smell of rain gets into the air. Raindrops trap tiny air bubbles as they hit the ground. The bubbles then shoot upwards through the raindrop and erupt into a fizz, producing extremely fine liquid droplets that stay suspended in the air as aerosols of scent.

 

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The smell of rain is strongest when light rain falls on sandy or clay soils. The speed of the raindrops during heavy rain makes it harder to trap the air bubbles that produce petrichor. Some scientists believe that humans developed a liking for the smell of rain as our ancestors depended on rainy weather for survival.

The MIT high-speed cameras, below, show raindrops landing and the emergence of petrichor aerosols as tiny white flecks.

Petrichor animation. Video by Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Renovation

Scientific advances in materials science and image analysis enable the work of renovation tackle more ambitious challenges. A recent example of this is the Hudson Theatre in Manhattan.

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One of Broadway’s oldest surviving theatres, first opened 114 years ago, has been renovated and reopened earlier this year –

05HUDSON3-jumbo-v2.jpg— with Jake Gyllenhaal in the revival of “Sunday in the Park With George”. It becomes Broadway’s 41st and newest playhouse, 114 years after it became one of Broadway’s first. Then, it opened with a production of “Cousin Kate” starring Ethel Barrymore.

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The theater was built by Henry B. Harris, above left, who ran it until 1912, when he perished on the Titanic. His wife, Renée, also above, survived and returned to New York to operate the theater. She became one of Broadway’s first female producers but she lost it to foreclosure in the Depression.

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Located on 44th Street just east of Broadway, the ornate theater has led a life as various as Manhattan itself, with stints as a TV studio (1950s), a reborn theater and then a porn palace (’60s), a rock venue (’80s), and, for the last 20 years, an event space for Millennium Hotels.

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After the renovation by the Ambassador Theatre Group of Britain the Hudson is ready to be a showplace again and one of the few new theatres on  Broadway.

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Plastic

The “Plastic Show” at the Almine Rech Gallery in London is by Melissa Castro Duarte.

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It brings together works by DeWain Valentine and four of his contemporaries — Mary Corse, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman and John McCracken — who were all experimenting with newly available materials in Venice and Santa Monica in the 1960s.

Valentine’s acrylic sculptures suggest the air is “becoming a substance”: They’re vast glossy blocks, columns, discs and lozenges that change color as you move around them and gaze in and through them. “All my work is really about the sky and the sea,” he says.

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The high sheen of his sculptures comes from buffing and lacquering, techniques used in his parents’ garage. Works in the show by John McCracken, by contrast,  are constructed from plywood and fiberglass with a glossy shell of polyester resin, just like a surfboard.

Polyester is a synthetic polymer made of purified terephthalic acid (PTA) or its dimethyl ester dimethyl terephthalate (DMT) and monoethylene glycol(MEG).

PTA is 1,4 benzenedicarboxylic acid: C6H4(COOH)2, mol. weight: 166.13

DMT is 1,4 benzenedicarboxylic acid: C6H4(COOCH3)2, mol. weight: 194.19
MEG is 1,2 ethanediol: C2H6O2 , mol. weight: 62.07

Books Smell

On March 4th the New York Times asked whether books smell the same. The question was inspired by Vladimir Nabokov who wrote:

“Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.”

For many people, the smell of books, in particular, is one of memory’s most powerful messengers, especially as the printed page gives way to the digital.

Over the past year, a Columbia University preservation expert and a curator at the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan have been engaged in an unusual poetic-scientific experiment in the little-visited olfactory wing of history, trying to pin down the powerful connection between smell and memory — in this case, collective memory.

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Jorge Otero-Pailos, director and professor of historic preservation at Columbia University, smells a bookcase in Pierpont Morgan’s study at the Morgan Library & Museum.

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Robert Prather, assistant to Carlos Benaim, master perfumer at International Flavors and Fragrances, preparing fragrance samples
Thousands of molecules will be categorized to determine which of them constitutes the smell profile of objects and surfaces from the Morgan Library.

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Big Balls

Polyhedra with up to 144 components can form by self-assembly (Nature, 22 December 2016, D. Fujita et al).  Familiar examples are the outline structures of golf balls and footballs.

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All that’s needed is a range of ligands – ions that bind to a central metal atom to form a coordination complex:

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The resulting ‘Goldberg Polyhedra’ are complex shells that protect viruses and cellular structures.      th-3.jpeg

The organic-metallic cages encapsulate proteins and other molecules, and may retain particular enzymes within particular structures.

 

Water, Water Everywhere

Why is there so much water on and around our planet, and where did it come from?

One idea is that it originated from ice specks floating in a cosmic cloud more than 4.6 billion years ago. Such interstellar water is millions of years older than the solar system itself. This water survived the solar system’s chaotic creation and came to Earth.

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(Bill Saxton, NSF National Radio Astronomy Observatory)

Much of the heavy water formed in the interstellar cloud and then traveled across the solar system.

About one atom in 6420 of hydrogen has a neutron and is called deuterium. It accounts for approximately 0.0156% of all the naturally occurring hydrogen in the oceans. The more common isotope (hydrogen-1 or protium) accounts for more than 99.98%.

Deuterium-rich water is found on other planets and moons, even here on Earth, but researchers are not sure where it came from.

A recently constructed computer model shows how such old ice molecules could have survived the sun’s violent radiation blasts, and gone on to the present planet Earth and its neighbours.

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Water is strongly associated with this sculpture called Barbora, by the American artist Vladas Vildžiūnas, presently found in Thornton Park, Vancouver.  The original concept was a lady walking in a park in solitude with breezes adding movement to her garments. Others see it as the movement of water in similar free space.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Today is William Shakespeare’s 400th birthday.

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Most days, we quote his words:

1. “With bated breath” – The Merchant Of Venice

2. “The be all and end all” – Macbeth

3. “Break the ice” – The Taming Of The Shrew

4. “Dead as a doornail” – Henry VI, Part II

5. “Faint-hearted” – Henry VI, Part I

6. “Wild-goose chase” – Romeo And Juliet

7. “Laugh yourself into stitches (in stitches)” – Twelfth Night

8. “Zany” – Love’s Labour’s Lost

9. “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve” – Othello

10. “What’s done, is done” – Macbeth

11. “At one fell swoop” – Macbeth

12. “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it (There’s method in my madness)” – Hamlet

13. “Spotless reputation” – Richard II

14. “Laughing-stock” – The Merry Wives Of Windsor

15. “Eaten out of house and home” – Henry IV, Part 2

16. “Fair play” – The Tempest/King John/Troilus And Cressida

17. “In a pickle” – The Tempest

18. “Send him packing” – Henry IV, Part 1

19. “Too much of a good thing” – As You Like It