Explained: The Old Book Smell

Why do old books have that peculiar musty smell?  According to the burgeoning science of material degradomics, it is caused by “hundreds of so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into the air from the paper.”  After determining the more culpable VOCs (“using headspace analysis after a 24 h predegradation procedure,” as I’m sure you’d already guessed),  it was (one assumes) a relatively simple matter to “quantitatively correlate volatile degradation products with properties important for the preservation of historic paper”.

In other words, they’ve come up with a literal sniff test to figure out which books need preservation.

This probably works a lot better than the Mercantile’s system:  We pick a book up, and if any of it is left behind on the table, we know we’ve got an Adopt-A-Book candidate on our hands.

-Norm De Plume

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Published in: on December 8, 2009 at 1:27 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

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