Who needs a nose? This crazy new algorithm can predict smell just by analyzing molecular structures

wine recommending algorithm scent
Can you guess a molecule’s smell by studying its structure? Even if you’re an olfactory chemist — one who studies the sense of smell — the answer is almost certainly not. However, a project by researchers at Rockefeller University in New York City may have helped cracked the problem, thanks to an open data set and cutting-edge machine-learning technology.

The results could have a range of applications, including helping perfume experts sift through billions of different molecules to find exactly the odor they’re searching for.

To begin with, Rockefeller University researchers asked 49 volunteers to assess the odor of 476 different chemicals, based on 21 different descriptors. These ranged from a chemicals’ intensity and pleasantness of smell, to how spicy or fruity it was. Once this data was assembled, the researchers then released it for 407 of the chemicals — together with 4,884 other variables based around chemical structure — for anyone who wanted to take a crack at writing an algorithm to make sense of it all.

The remaining 69 chemicals were held back so that whatever algorithms were created could be tested.

In the end, Professor Richard Gerkin, a neuroscientist at Arizona State University in Tempe, came up with the winning formula. His algorithm proved capable of predicting the scores the volunteers had assigned the chemicals based on their chemical compositions alone. Sure, 21 descriptors isn’t granular enough detail to accurately analyze every different chemical, but it’s an impressive start.

The possibility of using technology such as this to help narrow down the field when searching for a particular smell, or even flavor, is pretty exciting. “Eventually, you can use a database … and say, ‘OK, pick out the top 100 hits out of a billion molecules,'” Gerkin told New Scientist. “A hundred molecules are easier to test than a billion.”

Next up? Flipping the formula to predict which smells arise from mixing certain chemicals. Can it be done? Hey, if there’s one thing we’ve learned about machine learning, it’s that we write it off at our own peril.

Emerging Tech

This exotic new material somehow gets thicker when stretched

Scientists at the U.K.’s University of Leeds have discovered a synthetic material which actually gets thicker the more it’s stretched. Here are some of the things it could be used for.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (December 2018)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.

The best free music download sites that are totally legal

Finding music that is both free and legal to download can be difficult. We've handpicked a selection of the best free music download sites for you to legally download your next favorite album.

We tried all the latest and greatest smartphones to find the best of 2018

Smartphones are perhaps the most important and personal piece of tech on the planet. That’s why it’s important to pick the best phone for your individual needs. Here are the best smartphones you can buy.
Emerging Tech

Early-detection system for wildfires could save many states from big burns

When it comes to dealing with the growing problem of raging wildfires, a new wireless smart sensor system could help spot burgeoning blazes before they rage out of control. Here's how it works.

Light up the night! Here are the five best headlamps money can buy

Headlamps make all the difference when camping or walking the dog at night, especially when you're in need of both hands. From Black Diamond and Petzl to Coast here are some of the best headlamps on the market.
Emerging Tech

Elon Musk to unveil tunnel elevators and autonomous pods on December 18

We'll soon learn if Elon Musk's high-speed tunnel plan is a serious effort at ending traffic jams or little more than a fancy theme park ride. A big unveiling event is coming on December 18, a week later than originally planned.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and other that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Emerging Tech

The 20 best tech toys for kids will make you wish you were 10 again

Looking for the perfect toy or gadget for your child? Thankfully, we've rounded up some of our personal favorite tech toys, including microscopes, computer kits, and a spherical droid from a galaxy far, far away.
Emerging Tech

Scoot your commute! Here are the 9 best electric scooters on the market

Electric scooters are an affordable, convenient way to minimize your carbon footprint and zip around town. Check out 8 of our current favorites, whether you're working with a budget or have some cash to spare.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

Hear the sounds of wind on Mars from InSight’s latest audio recording

NASA's InSight craft has captured the sound of the wind blowing on the surface of Mars. The audio file was picked up by the air pressure sensor and the seismometer which detected vibrations from the 10 to 15 mph winds in the area.

Has Columbus, Ohio raised its IQ yet? A progress report from the mayor

Two years ago, the city of Columbus in Ohio received $40 million to pursue smart city initiatives. So, what’s happened since then? We spoke with its mayor, Andrew Ginther, to discuss progress and what’s ahead.