Friday, 3 February 2012

James: Why do bookshops smell so good?

I am sure we have all come across an old book at one time or another opened it merely to stick our noses in. I for one do for it gives me a sense of that I am learning from the past. But little did I know, until very recently, that the compound that causes this blissful olfaction is one of the most common forms of organic polymer with only cellulose more abundant.

What I am talking about is Lignin; a complex chemical compound which acts as a main part of the secondary cell wall, in the plant cell diagram by Caroline Dahl you can see the secondary wall labelled.

So how and why old books, well the lignin is relatively aromatic as it is the key is when it breaks down over time one of the products being very closely related to vanillin. Which is the main extract of the vanilla bean. So that sweet scent emanating from the very pages of our favourite old books is due to the active decomposition of the ancient molecule that was once constructed by a tree in order to keep it's cell strong and protected from pathogens. It gives quite a view to the world around to think that so much must have come before to get us to where we are now. And with that poignant thought I leave you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Ed,
Why bother about old books? Surely it's the new paperback stuff that's questionable. Is the awful smell of this cheap paper due to hexanal? Why does any Waterstone's bookshop remind me of hexanal?