Friday, October 28, 2005

“Strange Angel; The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons” by George Pendle

"Strange Angel" tells the story of John Parsons, rocketry pioneer, who died in an explosion at his Pasadena home in 1952. He was 37 years old. Parsons had been affiliated with Caltech, was one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and was deeply involved in a leadership role with the cult society, “Ordo Templi Orientis” (OTO).

Parsons grew up in a wealthy Pasadena home, but his family became impoverished by the depression and unable to send him to college. As a boy he became fascinated with pulp publications such as Weird Tales and the new Amazing Stories.

In 1932, at age 18, having not yet finished high school, Parsons went to work to support his family. He found a job with Hercules Powder Company where he gained a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of explosives, and was considered to have an instinctive grasp of chemical theory.

In 1935, the 20-year old Jack Parsons and 22-year old Ed Forman started hanging around at Caltech. There they met graduate student Frank Malina, then 22 years old. The Rocket Research Group (aka "The Suicide Squad") started conducting test firings in 1936, in a remote part of the still wild Arroyo Seco.

By 1937 Fascism was a rising force in Europe, and the conflict between Fascism and Communism was erupting into open warfare in Spain. Communism had an intellectual appeal, especially to left-leaning students. It was not illegal to be a member of the communist party at the time, but it was frowned upon, and most people kept their affiliation secret for fear of job repercussions. Parsons never officially joined the party, and eventually stopped going to the meetings, but the connection would later cause problems for him.

In the early 1940ies Parsons invented a solid, castable rocket fuel made from black tar and potassium perchlorate. Parsons' invention was one of “the most important discoveries in the long history of solid rockets.”

Parsons had been attracted to the writings of English writer and magician Aleister Crowley for some time. Eventually he was introduced to a group which practiced what they called “The Gnostic mass of the Church of Thelema,” which had been created by Crowley.

Crowley defined “magick” as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.”  Crowley took over a “quasi-Masonic” organization called the Ordo Templi Orientis, or OTO. The one thing he kept from the original OTO’s ritual was the use of sex as a component of working magic.

In 1942 Parsons bought a decaying Pasadena mansion and moved in with his wife Helen, her young half-sister Betty (who was Parsons’ mistress), and several of his OTO friends (including Wilfred Smith who was Helen’s lover). In this environment, Parsons created for himself an idyllic lifestyle. Parsons was also using drugs by this time: home-brewed absinthe, marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines.

Parsons became a regular guest of the Mañana Literary Society, a group of science fiction authors who met at the Laurel Canyon home of writer Robert Heinlein. Anthony Boucher, Cleve Cartmill, Jack Williamson, and L. Ron Hubbard were among those Parsons met at the Mañana Society.

During the years of WWII, the “Air Corps Jet Propulsion Research Project,” which had been funding the Suicide Squad’s research, reformulated into the Jet Propulsion Laboratory or JPL. Parsons and Forman were bought out in 1944, and Parsons was pretty much set adrift.

After the war ended, nuclear physicist Robert Cornog (who had discovered tritium while at UC Berkeley) moved into Parsons’ mansion, as did L. Ron Hubbard. Parsons and Hubbard became friends and rivals. Hubbard stole Parsons' girlfriend, Betty, who he eventually married. Hubbard “helped” Parsons with his magical “workings” and eventually they formed a business partnership along with Betty. It was a highly uneven partnership with Parsons contributing most of the money which Hubbard and Betty soon absconded with.

Parsons immersed himself in the practice of Enochian magic, with a goal of summoning an “Elemental mate”. The rituals he performed took an exhausting two hours and involved recitation as well as “focused masturbation” (a form of sympathetic magic as he tried to “fertilize” magical symbols drawn on paper “tablets” strewn around the floor). When Parsons met the woman who was to become his second wife (Marjorie "Candy" Cameron), he believed his magic had, indeed, summoned her.

By the late 1940ies, the House Committee on Un-American Activities was in full swing. Parsons was investigated, listed as an “Undesirable Employee for National Defense Work,” and consequently lost his job with North American Aviation. While his security clearance was later restored, eventually he lost it for good.

He and Candy rented the old coach house of a former Pasadena estate, and Parsons set up a laboratory on the ground floor. He was apparently making drugs and absinthe, as well as explosives. He found occasional work in the movie special effects industry, and it was a special effects project he was working on when the explosion that killed him occurred.



Thursday, September 01, 2005

"Starvation Heights" by Gregg Olsen

"Starvation Heights" by Gregg Olsen


In September 1910 wealthy English sisters Claire and Dora Williamson first learned of "Dr." Linda Burfield Hazard and her fasting cure. They were staying at the Empress hotel in Victoria, Vancouver Island. The hotel was 2 years old.

Empress Hotel, Victoria British Columbia
Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

The sisters saw "Dr." Hazard's advertisement in a Seattle newspaper. Claire wrote away for her book: Fasting for the Cure of Disease. Claire's letter mentioned health problems of Dora's. When the book arrived, it contained a brochure advertising the "Hazard Institute of natural therapeutics" in Olalla, Washington. The sisters decided they had to go as sort of a spa holiday.

At first, the facility in Olalla was not ready, so the sisters began their "treatment" at a hotel in Seattle. After weeks of fasting and daily enemas, first in Seattle then after transfer to the facility at Olalla, Claire Williamson died.

The Williamson sisters' uncle and former nurse were shown an embalmed body that they knew was not Claire. Dr Hazard claimed that Claire had died of the ailments she had sought treatment for. In reality these were nothing more than a vaguely nervous stomach and pains in her knees, but Hazard claimed that Claire had been at death's door. The truth was that Claire had died of starvation.

After encountering "Claire's body", the nurse went out to Olalla to find Dora in a state near death. The surviving sister alternated between begging to leave and claiming the fasting treatment was healing her. In the sisters' state of weakness and complete dependence, Hazard had either tricked or forged Claire's agreement to will most of her estate to Hazard, as well as to declare Dora mentally incompetent and a ward of Hazard. If the nurse had not come and gotten her away from "Wilderness Heights" (Hazard's grandiose name for her facility), Dora too would have died.

The British Vice Consul, Lucian Agazziz, helped the women bring a criminal case against Linda Hazard, as well as suing her for return of Claire's property. Claire Williamson was far from the only "patient" of Linda Hazard's who had died under questionable circumstances. In the case of Claire Williamson, Linda Hazard was found guilty of manslaughter. The front page story in all the papers was about how Linda Hazard had sold Claire Williamson's teeth after her death.

Linda Hazard served less than two years in prison. She and her husband Sam then moved to New Zealand for several years where business was brisk. In 1920 they were able to return to Olalla and buy Wilderness Heights out right, and finally build the grand sanitarium she'd always wanted. She continued to have trouble with the law, and more patients died. Eventually the sanitarium burned to the ground, with hints of an insurance scam.

Linda's last trial for practicing medicine without a license was two years before her death. And indeed she fasted herself to death in 1938. Her husband Samuel outlived her by eight years.

Hazard did have her friends and supporters. Several of these were heavily into spiritualism and theosophy. She also found support from many members of "Home Colony" - an anarchist colony on the Key Peninsula. Linda's husband, Sam Hazard, was an alcoholic who tried to conceal his habit by buying bottles of high alcohol-content extracts - particularly vanilla. Apparently this was not a tremendously unusual problem. When Linda married Sam Hazard she knew he was already married to another woman. She had stood by him during his trial for bigamy and waited for his release from prison. Its less clear if she knew about yet another wife (his first) and the mounting debts and fraud that drove him out of West Point in disgrace.





Monday, August 29, 2005

"River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West." by Rebecca Solnit.

In 1872 Edward Muybridge took the first photographs of a horse in motion. The horse, named Occident, belonged to Leland Stanford, and was one of the fastest trotting horses in the country. The photographs were commissioned to reveal whether a trotting horse ever has all four feet off the ground at the same time. During the decade that followed, Muybridge developed camera shutters that could make exposures of a fraction of a second for the first time. To go along with it, he made film that was fast enough to capture images in such a brief time. The stop motion effect was used to dissect rapid movements into a series of still photographs. Muybridge also developed the zootrope, which makes a series of spring images seen through a slot appear to be a single image in motion. In other words, his work provided the elements that eventually became moving pictures.

Muybridge was born Edward James Muggeridge in a town called Kingston-upon-Thames (just upriver from London). Over the course of his adult life, he changed his first name to Eadward, and his last name first to Muygrige, and later to Muybridge.

He arrived in San Francisco in the autumn of 1855, when that city was the capital of the gold rush--and a place where people found it easy and attractive to reinvent themselves.

Photographic negatives were made on glass plates, which were in themselves valuable. Photographers sometimes scraped and reused them. "...many negatives of the Civil War were recycled into greenhouse plates without being scraped, their images of the harvest of death gradually fading away to let more and more light in on the orchids or cucumbers beneath." Upon his death, William Ruofson's (Muybridge's dealer of the mid-1870s) negatives, including those of Muybridge's wife, Flora, were sold to author Joaquin Miller to make a greenhouse.

The wet-plate photographic process used in the 1860s and 70s required that the negative be made, exposed, and developed in quick succession. Muybridge sometimes had as many as 4 assistants with him when he traveled, as well as a pack train to transport gear and chemicals. A dark tent or wagon was required. Inside the tent, a glass plate was turned into a negative by the application of collodion, a volatile syrup of gun cotton and ether. The coated plate was then dipped into a bath of silver nitrate, drained and placed in a light-excluding holder to be placed in the camera. The photograph had to be taken before the emulsion dried and the photograph developed immediately. The entire process took a fast photographer around half an hour. There were no shutters or light meters--exposure was accomplished by removing the lens cap for an interval of a few seconds to several minutes, the time based on the experience and intuition of the photographer.

The US Army hired Muybridge to document the Modoc wars in photographs. For the Modoc, the Tule Lake region was the center of the world, and the army was determined to displace them from it. In 1873 they fought hard among natural labyrinth of the Lava Bed Stronghold.

The Modocs were involved with a version of the Ghost Dance, and danced in the belief that it would bring back their dead. The author, Solnit, describes the Ghost Dance as a technology, and finds parallels in the spiritualist movement that began in the 1840s and reached a peak in the U.S. in the years after the Civil War. "To propose annihilating the inexorable march of history and the irreversibility of death was to propose a technology as ambitious as a moon walk or a gene splice."

For more about Muybridge and examples of his work click here.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

"Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World." by Adrienne Mayor.

As the title says, the book discusses the use of poisoned weapons, incendiary devices, poison gas, and contagion as weapons of war in the ancient world: Greece, Rome, the Middle East, China, India, Africa, and Central and South America.

Poison for arrows could be derived from poisonous snakes or plants. Poisoned weapons were discussed in The Iliad and The Odyssey, as well as in Virgil's Aeneid. Odysseus, himself, was killed by the son he had with the sorceress, Circe. Telegonus mistook his father for an enemy and ran him through with a spear tipped with the poisonous spine of a stingray. Ancient writings from India, as well as the Mediterranean area, give detailed descriptions of poisonous animals, plants, insects, and minerals, along with descriptions of symptoms and antidotes and remedies. Hellbore and wolfbane were two of the most commonly mentioned plant poisons. Others were henbane, hemlock, nightshade (belladonna, also know as "strychnos" by the Romans) and yew. The sap, flowers, and nectar of rhododendrons contain neurotoxins, and honey made by bees from rhododendron nectar was also poisonous.

South American rainforest tribes use the deadly poison from "poison arrow" frogs to treat arrows and blowgun darts. Two micrograms of the frog toxin are lethal to humans. South American natives also used the plant toxins strychnine or curare (an alkaloid that causes fatal paralysis). A pinprick from a curare-coated dart can bring down a human or a large animal.

In the old world, a variety of poisonous beetles were also used to make weapons. Marine animals such as jellyfish, urchins and stingrays may also have been part of the bio-arsenal. There is archeological evidence of stingray spine spear points from Central and South America. Live insects, such as angry bees, or poisonous animals, such as scorpions, could also be deployed against the enemy in catapulted sealed jars or bombs.

Collecting the materials and preparing these poisons was incredibly dangerous, and therefore usually the province of shamans or wizard-priests--the process cloaked in ritual and arcane learning. Manufacture of the dreaded scythicon, the poison used by the Scythian archers had a complicated series of steps. First a poisonous viper was killed and its body left to decompose. Then the preparer drew blood from a human, and separated the serum. The serum was mixed with animal dung human feces and left to putrefy. The two components were mixed together to produce a foul smelling, toxic soup, laden with dangerous bacteria. If a victim didn't die immediately from the wound or the poison, gangrene and tetanus would inevitably set in. To ensure delivery and hamper removal of contaminated arrow points, barbs and double tips were used.

Particularly in siege warfare, poisoning or simply cutting off a water supply was a common tactic. Tossing animal or human carcasses into wells or rivers to contaminate the water supply is an age-old practice, used in countless conflicts around the globe. A fleeing army or populace might contaminate or poison food, wine, or water left behind to incapacitate their pursuers.

Germ warfare is often considered to have begun in 1346, when the Mongols catapulted corpses of their own plague victims into Kaffa, a Genoese fortress on the Black Sea. This act may have introduced the black plague into Europe. Long before the concept of germ theory was understood, enough was known about the spread of contagion to facilitate deliberate infection--and certainly the accusation was frequently made.

Indian and Persian lore contains tales of "poison maidens" sent among the enemy. A popular belief was that a lifelong regimen of ingesting poisons and venoms could produce a poisonous person--examples in fiction being Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Rappaccini's Daughter" and the story of the poison Sultan Mahmud Shah. Perhaps such stories were stimulated by the practices of the Psylli, the snake charmers of North Africa, or possibly a reference to venereal disease, small pox, or "typhoid Mary"-type carriers of disease.

Incendiary devices ranged from fire-arrows, fire ships, or catapulted firepots of sulphur and bitumen, to more diabolical weapons involving naphtha or burning mirrors such as the array attributed to Archimedes at Syracuse.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

"Inside The Victorian Home: A Portrait of Victorian Life in Victorian England," by Judith Flanders

"Inside The Victorian Home" focuses on Victorian life in middle class homes, and is structured by describing activities on a room-by-room basis. The work of servants is covered as well--not the teams of servants required to maintain a stately home, but the labors of a "maid of all work" in homes which could afford no more than one servant to help the mistress.

My comments here are largely on aspects of hygiene, health, science, and medicine, as those are the topics that particularly interest me. But the book also contains much information of interest on social mores and customs--marriage, mourning, child raising, social activities, and so on. The book is a great reference for writers interested in details of daily life for families of that era.

General

An emphasis on classification and record keeping was popular in all walks from household accounts to the Linnaean taxonomy (brought to London in 1790s). The register of births, deaths and marriages was set up in 1837. The census was instituted. The British museum began to create a catalog of all its collections.

In 1840, Sir Roland Hill pushed through establishment of the penny post. For the first time, letters were stamped or franked at the time of posting. Previously, postage had been paid by the recipient and varied with the weight of the post and distance carried.

Disease and medicine

Doctors preferred patients to be ignorant of medicine, as it rendered them more compliant.

Understanding of disease transmission, a drop in the real price of food, and (most importantly) improvements in sanitation led to a drop in childhood mortality. As late as 1899 more than 16% of children did not survive to their first birthday. By the time they reached age 5, 35 out of every 45 19th century children had survived smallpox, measles, scarlet fever, diphtheria, whooping cough, typhus, or enteric fever. Illnesses such as chicken pox and mumps were more dangerous than today, because of the drugs used to treat them. With the development of germ theory it became possible to differentiate between various diseases, but not necessarily to cure them.

Sometimes the medicines were worse than the illnesses. The ever-popular ipecac (a powdered root inducing vomiting) and calomel (a purgative consisting made of mercury chloride). Patent medicines such as "J. Collis Browne's Chlolodyne" contained not only opium, but also chloral hydrate and cannabis. Beecham's pills contained only aloes (a purgative) ginger and soap. But they were sold as a cure all for everything from scurvy to bad dreams.

There is one theory that Charles Darwin suffered from chronic arsenic poisoning due to the "Fowler's solution" he took to help his chronic dyspepsia.

Morphine, quinine, atropine, codeine, and iodine were isolated or discovered during the early part of the 19th century. Beginning in the 1820s, salicylic acid was produced from salicin, itself derived from willow bark. It was used to treat rheumatic fever and rheumatism. The synthetic version was produced by Bayer laboratories in 1897 and sold as aspirin from 1899 on. At the same time, Bayer was working on another promising discovery: a cough syrup made from the newly synthesized diacetylmorphine, sold under the brand name "heroin."

Household hazards

Painted walls were usually primed with two coats of lead paint: one red and one white. The topcoat was also mixed in a base of white lead. "Painters' colic" was a type of paralysis, when wet paint was absorbed through the skin. Many wallpapers were also dangerous, having colors made from poisonous materials. For example: green, lilac, pinks, some blues, and "French gray" had an arsenic base. In some wallpapers, concentrations of arsenious acid were as high as 59%. Vermillion was adulterated with red lead. Many other countries had banned these papers, but in the late 1880's they were still commonly used in Britain.

Clothing was also likely to be impregnated with arsenic.


Houses

The ideal in house design and use was for each room to have a distinct and separate purpose. Regularity of form was important--regularity and conformity were equated with respectability. The "pattern-book" house had a basement (with kitchen, scullery, and possibly breakfast room), ground floor* (dining room, morning room), first floor (drawing room), second floor (master bedroom, dressing room, second bedroom), half-landing (bathroom), top floor (2 or 3 bedrooms for servants and children).

*would be the first floor in American houses.


Kitchens

The closed range - the first improvement on cooking over an open fire appeared at the beginning of the 19th century but was not commonly in use for decades. Fueled by coke, for the first time, the ability to bake at home and have a continuous supply of hot water was available to the average (upper middle class, at least) person.

Of course the coal-fired ranges and fires were responsible for incredible dirt and dust as well as the famous London pea soup fogs.

Girls and women

At all social levels, girls were deliberately under-educated and expected to be subordinate to their brothers as well as their father. As women, they were expected to run a household, with or without servants, to perfection. Cleanliness and thrift were equated to virtue.

Women were expected to act as nurses for family members, but male doctors were beginning to take over in previously female roles such as childbirth attendant. Just as women were the nurses in the home, they also were subject to more illnesses than were men of the time. To some extent the causes were physical. For example, girls were often deliberately given protein-deficient diets, which was supposed alleviate symptoms of puberty. Also, women spent more time exposed to the indoor pollution of gas, coal dust, and toxic chemicals. They got little exercise and were compelled to wear constricting clothing (which limited the exercise they could take).

A state of illness or invalidism, however, also served as something of a welcome retreat from the demands of daily life. Invalids were waited on, cared for, and treated kindly in the home. For many women, a "sick headache" was the only way they could get a break and some privacy.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

"The Italian Boy; A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London" by Sarah Wise. Metropolitan Books, 2004


In the late autumn of 1831, Nova Scotia Gardens (a neighborhood of workers cottages in London's East End) became famous as the home of three body snatchers, or "resurrection men," who were charged with murdering a young boy, who became known as "The Italian Boy" of the title, in order to sell his body for dissection. This was three years subsequent to the Burke and Hare killings of the same type, when 16 victims were murdered in Edinburgh Scotland. The case sped the passage of the "The Anatomy Act"--an act of Parliament in 1832 that made the unclaimed bodies of the poor legally available for dissection, thus ending the "resurrection" trade.

The suspicions of Richard Partridge, anatomy "demonstrator" at King's College, had been aroused by an unusually fresh body of a young boy brought to him for sale by a group of professional body snatchers. Partridge delayed the men with a ruse, while the police were sent for. John Bishop, James May, Thomas Williams, and Michael Shields were arrested on suspicion of murder.

Bishop and Williams shared a cottage in Nova Scotia Gardens, and did much of their drinking at a pub called "Fortune of War," at Smithfield (near the famous meat market). The "Fortune of War," named for an owner who had lost both legs and an arm in a sea battle, was the pub most associated with the resurrection trade. Snatchers could stash their stolen bodies under the benches, and talk openly about their unpopular trade.

The two men had met up with James May in the pub, who agreed to help them sell a "Thing" (corpse as sold to a medical school for purposes of dissection and teaching). The price of a Thing ranged from around 8-12 guineas, or close to what an East End silk weaver might earn in a year. The teeth could be sold separately, and those of the Italian boy went for 12 shillings (the price of 6 pints of porter).

In another pub deal, Michael Shields was hired to "carry a heavy load" between the various hospitals, while the others looked for a buyer. At King's College, the dissecting room porter, William Hill, sent for anatomist Richard Partridge, who authorized Hill to pay nine guineas for the as yet unseen body. Having struck a deal, the men fetched the body and returned with it to King's. The state of the body aroused Hill's suspicions; Hill alerted Partridge, who delayed the resurrection men by claiming to need change for a 50 pound note.

In 1831, there were around 800 medical students distributed between London's 4 hospital medical schools and 17 private anatomy schools. About 500 of those students dissected corpses as part of their training; each student was said to require two for learning anatomy and a third for practicing surgical techniques. The only legal source of corpses was executed murderers, but there simply weren't enough executions to supply the demand.

Body snatchers raided city graveyards or traveled to country villages to steal bodies and transport them back to London. Snatchers, or their wives, might also pose as relatives of dying paupers--claiming the body of the deceased for private burial. Bodies were even stolen from the parlors of private homes where they had been laid out prior to burial. The law did not define the human body as property, therefore "stealing" a dead body was classified as a "breach of common decency" rather than theft. Punishment was typically a fine or up to 6 months in jail. To avoid charges of theft, resurrection men took care to replace shrouds and coffin lids.

Bishop and Williams were executed and their bodies given to anatomists for dissection. James May was sentenced to transportation, but died in route to Botany Bay. Michael Shields was reprieved, but remained an outcast.

William Hill, the dissecting room porter who first suspected a murder, was dismissed from King's without a reference. None of the London resurrectionists would do business with him, so the surgeons' supply of corpses dried up. Richard Partridge became a professor of anatomy at King's College, but never did well as a surgeon, and eventually died in poverty.



~#~

This book provided inspiration for my short story, "The Resurrection Men," which appeared in the Potter's Field 2 Anthology, edited by Cathy Burburuz, Sam's Dot Publishing. In particular, I borrowed a couple of documented street artists as characters: Samuel Horsey, who had lost his legs and got around on a cart, and "Black Joe Johnson," a West Indian man (a former seaman, stranded in London) who wore a model of Nelson's ship, Victory, on his head. Mr. Johnson would move alongside ground-floor windows, giving the impression that the ship sailed along the sill while he sang a sea shanty.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

"Portrait of a Lady" by Stephanie Pain. New Scientist. 5 February 2005

In 1770, an English trader named George Cartwright set up a series of trading posts in Labrador. Cartwright believe in building good relations with the native population. When he returned to England for a visit in 1772, he brought a party of five "Esquimaux" with him. These were Attuiock, and Inuit priest; Attuiock's youngest wife, Ickongogue, and their daughter, Ickenuna; Attuiock's brother, Tooklavinia; and his brother's wife, Caubvick. The Inuit were a hit in London society, "even the king doffed his hat to them."

Among the flood of invitations, in January 1773 they dined at the home of John Hunter, anatomist, surgeon, and collector. Attuiock accidentally stumbled over a room containing a glass case filled with human bones, and returned to his companions in fear that Mr. Hunter intended to eat them and add their bones to his collection. With some difficulty, Cartwright managed to convince them that the bones had come from executed English criminals and were in Hunter's possession for medical study. A sketch of the four adult Inuit was found among John Hunter's papers, and a portrait of a Labrador woman is included in the collection of anthropological portraits at the Hunterian Museum. The portrait is believe to be of Caubvick.

Sadly on their return voyage home to Labrador, all the Inuit fell ill with smallpox. Only Caubvick survived. Cartwright had cut off her scab-matted hair during her illness, and tried to persuade her to throw it away. Her refusal appears to have led to the deaths of her entire settlement within a year of her return.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

"A Nose For Science: Buck, '75, Wins Nobel for Decoding Genetics of Smell." University of Washington (Seattle), Alumni Magazine, Columns. December 2004.

Linda Buck (U of W class of 1975) shared the 2004 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Richard Axel of Columbia University.

She discovered a family of 1,000 different genes that give rise to an equivalent number of olfactory receptors. These receptors are located in cells residing in a small area of the upper part of the lining of the nose. The brain uses these 1,000 receptors to detect 10,000 different odors in much the same way as we form words with letters of the alphabet. That is, different combinations of receptors activated together give rise to perception of different smells.

Among other projected applications of this work, Buck notes that her research might help decode the mechanisms behind the triggering of appetite or emotional states (such as fear) by particular smells.