Our lives are dictated more by smell than we realize, but once again, as I have been writing for years, shape is also part of the issue. It now turns out that dancing is not just “with the stars,” but also “with our noses.” And a romantic partner’s shape is not only cool to look at, but also travels up our nose!

I have been writing and lecturing for a long while now that the essential, critical messages of life are delivered inside our bodies by shape-shifting. A hormone sends a message to a proteineous receptor, and together they “shape-shift.” Merged together, they form a new silhouette, and this newly-formed shape then shakes and shimmies in atomic space (eat your heart out, John Travolta), delivering vital directives and informing cells of their daily job description. Well, the nose gets in on this dance, too.

Odors are molecules. Odor molecules, like other hormones and receptors, dock into receptors, but ones that line scent nerves inside the nose and brain (olfactory bulb). The new duo—odiferous molecule and smell nerve receptor—then wiggle, stretch, and shake. This causes a molecular shimmy, a new line-dance step, a John T. strutting his thinner stuff on the disco floor in Grease. The nerves in our nose and brain then distinguish the shape and dance of these molecules and we smell the neck of a scrumptious-looking person, or the nuzzle of our favorite doggie or the aroma of chicken soup on the stove.

So in the same manner that estrogen, testosterone, and insulin hormones bind into receptors, odors also bind into receptors, which then inform electrons to initiate a specific dance step. It is this electron transfer line-dance (move over Baryshnikov and ABCs Bunheads), this shape-shifting and motion, that actually produces scent. Yes, ladies and gentleman, this is how we smell, according to researchers at the University of Illinois (my home state). And remember, smell even has an evolutionary role in which mates we choose. So, molecules rocking and dancing up into our brains influence dating and mating. The essential messages of life are due to docking of molecules into receptors, which then shape-shift, shimmy, and rock. This is right up my alley since I’m a long-time West Coast swing dancer. Or rather, it’s right up my nose (and yours, too). (Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics 2012)