Saving A Scent For Later

As Megan Garber considers a new high-tech device for capturing smells – called the Madeleine, demonstrated above – she runs through many predecessors:

The tradition of scent-mapping goes back, it seems, to the 1790s, when the physician and pioneering hygienist Jean-Noël Hallé embarked on an odor-recording expedition of Paris. Hallé had a grand vision that was technologically limited: the equipment he used to document his six-mile expedition along the banks of the Seine started and stopped at his notebook and his nose.

Nearly two centuries later, however, in the 1970s, the Swiss fragrance chemist Roman Kaiser developed the odor-preservation technique he dubbed headspace capture:

a process meant to analyze and manufacturer the fragrances of the natural world. Kaiser used his technique to measure and then recreate the scents of a tropical rainforest; scientists and perfumers have since adapted the process to recreate scents of a more quotidian variety. In the 1980s, the scent scientist Braja Mookherjee, working for the fragrance firm IFF, invented a process that allowed technicians to extract fragrant molecules from living flowers, with the ultimate goal of recreating their smells. In the late 1990s, Japanese scientists began developing an “odor recorder” that promised to capture and replicate the world’s scents.

Today, the odor artist Sissel Tolas uses headspace technology to create Hallé-esque “scratch and sniff” maps of the world. Olivia Alice uses a similar technique to preserve the scents of loved ones that linger on their clothes — by “deconstructing the clothing and extracting its composite and essential elements.” So does Li Jingxuan’s “Aromastagram.”

Previous Dish on historical scents here.