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Chemist reveals what causes that new book smell

french academy library paris books globe This may not be your library, but close your eyes and smell a book, and the smell can transport you there.
Credit: Getty Images

Among the addictive pleasures of a new book that e-readers have not managed to replicate is that heady whiff that comes with cracking one open.However, as with the smell of new cars, it's down to things you probably shouldn't spend too much time sniffing.

Compound Interest, a blog run a U.K. chemistry teacher that explores the day-to-day chemical reactions going on around us, has detailed the compounds that add up to that comforting smell of adventure and excitement.

The blog has an infographic detailing the various chemicals, but the basic elements are "the paper itself (and the chemicals used in its manufacture), the inks used to print the book, and the adhesives used in the book-binding process."

As for old book smells, the answer is more straightforward. A compound called lignin that gives wood its strength, which is removed from modern books, causes older paper to yellow because of oxidation, which causes the lignin to break down and, in turn, the cellulose molecules it's holding together, according to Compound Interest. These reactions can produce chemicals that smell sweet or even floral, with hints of vanilla and almonds.

Elsewhere in the world of smells, while Smell-o-Vision technology may be a way off, at least one company is raising money to develop and market a device that lets the person at the other end of the phone smell the New York pizzeria you're standing next to.

Follow Eva Kis on Twitter @thisiskis or email eva.kis@metro.us.

 

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