Your schnoz can distinguish a TRILLION odors

“Fun Facts Saturday”

The Amazing Human Nose

In a 1920 study, scientists concluded that the human nose could distinguish about 10,000 different odors.  This was far below other senses.  For example, our eyes can identify several million different colors, and our ears can discern about a half million different tones.

In a major study in 2014, scientists concluded that the human schnoz can actually distinguish between 1 trillion different scents. Amazing!

My Dad’s Amazing Sense of Smell – Except for Skunks and Marijuana

World’s Longest Nose Guinness Record

Everyone was amazed by my dad’s sense of smell.  First, he was born with that “gift.”  Second, he actually worked hard to improve that “talent.” 

In his youth, he bought a science kit containing liquids with 20 different odors. Over months, he diluted each sample 50%.  He kept diluting the samples, over and over again, until he could no longer tell the difference.

When my dad moved in with us in his 90s, we discovered, that although he had a great sense of smell, he confused the small of skunks and marijuana. 

Both odors are pungent and somewhat similar.  But marijuana odor is “sweeter,” and skunks are “sour.” 

Whenever someone ran over a skunk in the neighborhood, my angry father would complain: “The neighbors are smoking marijuana again!” 

My wife and I nipped this in the bud.  Whenever we smelled the pungent skunk odor, we would yell, “Someone killed another skunk!”

My Wife’s Poor Sense of Smell – A Blessing

“Berserk Schnoz Figure”

Unlike my dad, my wife has a poor sense of smell. I am grateful. 

Her lack of smell has contributed to our lasting relationship. Sometimes, my wife would ask, “Why are you taking a shower in the evening.” I would reply, “Because I have been sweating a lot and smell.” She would respond, “Oh, I hadn’t noticed.” Thank goodness!

(“Humans Can Identify More than 1 Trillion Smells,” National Institutes of Health, 31 Mar 2014,; “Human Nose Can Detect 1 Trillion Odors,” Jessica Morrison, Nature, 20 Mar 2014,; Bushdid, C., Magnasco, M. O., Vosshall, L. B. & Keller, A. Science 343, 1370-1372 (2014).)


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