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Darwin was a 'smell genius' -- and other random science facts

April 25, 2009 |  1:39 pm

Science

What exactly is “real science”? Old, tired, boring and safe, according to Leonard Susskind, author of “The Black Hole War: My Battle With Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics” and recent recipient of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for science.

Speaking about E. coli, black holes and the science of smell, panelists in the “Real Science” discussion this morning debunked common myths and misconceptions within the scientific community and shared their research with a packed audience of about 200.

The panel was made up of Carl Zimmer, author of “Microcosm: E. Coli and the New Science of Life”; Avery Gilbert, smell scientist and author of “What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life”; and Susskind, arch-rival (and friend) of Stephen Hawking and blogger extraordinaire; with science writer K.C. Cole moderating.

Among the random scientific facts that emerged:

*The blind do not necessarily have a heightened sense of smell compared with sighted people.

*Everyone has E. coli in their bodies, and about 10,000 strands of E. coli can fit on the tip of a finger.

*There is a limit to how many odors one person can smell at a time (it's usually three). 

*Charles Darwin may be a “smell genius” because of his ability to smell a musk-deer skin he wrapped in a handkerchief 18 months after washing it

*And, no, black holes do not lead to other worlds.

Each of the panelists has been described as a curmudgeon in his field. Susskind has had a 25-year feud with Stephen Hawking regarding black holes. Gilbert  strayed from the topic of Chandler Burr’s well-received “The Emperor of Scent: A Story of Perfume, Obsession, and the Last Mystery of the Senses,” saying smell is not about “good vibrations.”

But the really probing questions came from the audience: Are women really turned on by the smell of Good 'N Plenty?

-- Lauren Williams

Photo: Lauren Williams

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