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You’ve Heard of the Word “Petrichor” but Do You Know Its Story?

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What’s the word for the smell of rain? It’s petrichor. For years, scientists referred to this evidence of rain as argillaceous odor because it was particularly noticeable near soil with a lot of whitish clay called argil. Then, in the early 1960s, Australian researchers Isabel Joy Bear and Richard Thomas set out to investigate just how this intoxicating smell is produced. They concluded that increased moisture in the air, plus the pounding of raindrops, causes certain compounds, including a bacteria-generated substance called geosmin, to be released and combine in the air. The result is the olfactory treat that Bear and Thomas dubbed petrichor, from Ancient Greek petra, or “stone,” an etymological relative of petrify, and ichor, the magical fluid that courses through the veins of the gods. This is part of a complete episode.

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