Home | Workforce | Strictly speaking | When rain lashes concrete on a hot day, Petrichor is the divine essence of stone

When rain lashes concrete on a hot day, Petrichor is the divine essence of stone

Petrichor was coined by CSIRO scientists Isabel Bear and Richard Thomas in 1964, as the name for the oily liquid they had discovered to be released from the earth when moistened by humidity or rain. It’s also the name for the distinctive smell that this substance emits.

Like many scientific terms, it is derived from Ancient Greek: petros, meaning stone or rock; and ichor, which was the name for the fluid that was supposed to run through the veins of the gods.  So it could be translated as stone-essence, a descriptive term with richly allusive qualities.

Smell is the most primeval of our senses, and is directly processed by the brain, unlike sight and hearing for example. It is deeply connected with memory. A stray aroma from a plant, person or place can plunge us instantly back into long-lost recollections.

So it is appropriate that petrichor features in Doctor Who, that most nostalgic of sci-fi series; its main character being a homeless, time-wandering alien. In one episode, petrichor is the telepathically transmitted password that allows access to the Doctor’s hijacked Tardis. Like the Tardis, some words are bigger on the inside.

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One comment

  1. Petrichor is also the title and subject of a song on Paul Kelly’s latest album, (which is where I first came across it)- a sign the term is penetrating modern society.

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