Fun Fridays – May 5, 2017

For those of you who love the smell of printed books, here is the chemical composition of what you are enjoying.

Book nerds of the world, unite!

(Link to the full size PDF is below)

Link to full size version:

Accompanying article is here:

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

10 Responses to Fun Fridays – May 5, 2017

  1. Avatar
    Henry Styron May 5, 2017 at 3:55 am #

    I shall now be able to walk into my local library, inhale, and exclaim “ah, nothing like toluene and ethyl benzene.”

    Thanks, Steve!

  2. Avatar
    Brennan S. McPherson May 5, 2017 at 6:30 am #

    Fascinating! Made me look for more features + usages of the chemical compounds on Wikipedia:

    Toluene is a chemical used in paint thinners, and is sometimes used as a “recreational inhalant” and can “severe neurological harm” when used that way. Seems not just book-lovers like sniffing it. . . 😉 2013 worldwide sales of the chemical amounted to 24.5 billion US $’s.

    Vanillin is essentially extract of vanilla, and is used in perfumes, livestock fodder, ice cream, chocolates, etc.

    2-ethylhexanol is used as a low volatility solvent, and can be used as an octane booster when reacted with nitric acid.

    Ethylbenzene is a highly flammable colorless liquid, and more than 99% of the chemical that’s produced is used for making styrene. It occurs naturally in coal tar and petroleum.

    Benzaldehyde is the primary component of bitter almond oil and can be extracted from a number of other natural sources. Synthetic benzaldehyde is the flavoring agent in imitation almond extract, which is used to flavor cakes and other baked goods. Niche use: bee repellant. A small amount of benzaldehyde-containing solution is placed on a fume board near the honey combs. The bees promptly move away from the honey combs to get away from the fumes. Benzaldehyde allows the beekeeper to remove the honey frames from the bee hive with greater safety to both bees and the beekeeper.

    Furfural is an important renewable, non-petroleum based chemical feedstock (raw material) used to make composites, cements, adhesives, casting resins, and coatings, and also for agricultural purposes like herbicides, and finally as a chemical solvent. Niche use: Furfural was used as a fuel dye for all heating fuel for tax purposes in Finland before being replaced in 31/8/2003 by Solvent Yellow 124 due to EU legislation.

    Who in the world figured all this stuff out anyways? Mind-blowing.

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby May 5, 2017 at 7:52 am #

      It’s easy to identify what’s causing the smell, Brennan. Someone sucked the vapor coming off some old books into a GC-mass spec (gas chromatograph (GC) coupled to a mass spectrometer). The GC separates the components and the mass spec takes a spectrum of each. A quick comparison of the spectra to the compounds in the instruments database would spit out the answer. Easy peasy.

      • Avatar
        Brennan S. McPherson May 5, 2017 at 9:59 am #

        Oh, I just meant the different ways you can use all those chemicals. But that is fascinating!

  3. Avatar
    Carol Ashby May 5, 2017 at 7:43 am #

    Thanks for such a useful post, Steve. As a scientist, I have lots of friend who’ll enjoy this info.

    Vanillin–we all love to inhale that scent.

    As a lab researcher, I’m so highly safety-trained that I couldn’t resist checking the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for benzaldehyde: “Inhalation of high concentrations may cause central nervous system effects characterized by nausea, headache, dizziness, unconsciousness and coma. May cause respiratory tract irritation. May cause narcotic effects in high concentration.” (High concentration is like putting your nose over an open bottle and inhaling deeply, probably multiple times.)

    But I’m going to keep sniffing old books. The concentration is ultra-low, and who among us wouldn’t take a risk for the joy of reading? Books are already addicting, even without the narcotic effect of the vapors they emit.

  4. Avatar
    Edward Lane May 5, 2017 at 8:26 am #

    Thank you SO much for this fascinating information. As a former prosecutor I recognize many of those terms from the Texas Penal Code. I will never look at a book quite the same again!

  5. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D May 5, 2017 at 9:25 am #

    I can tell you by the smell when it is going to rain and can distinguish between Coke and Pepsi by the smell, so it only stands to reason that books should smell, as well. We should know- some of them really stink!

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby May 5, 2017 at 10:46 am #

      Sheri, vultures do play a vital role in two of mine, but I hope the carrion smell doesn’t extend past those few scenes.


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