A pioneer of this approach is Roman Kaiser, a Swiss fragrance chemist who developed a technology called “headspace” in the 1970s that made it possible to capture and analyze the scent given off by flowers and other objects. Using a glass container, a pump, and a sampling trap that gathers molecules using a solvent or coated surface, the system allows a chemist or perfumer to gather the volatile scent molecules exuded by an object without harming it.[...]
Perfumers like New York-based Christopher Brosius have used headspace to re-create less obvious smells, like the odor of an old fur coat or a well-worn paperback. Their goal is an artistic one, but the same approach could serve as the beginning of a database. Imagine having a library of scents specific to a particular time or place, from the strangely sweet aroma of a plastic-wrapped CD case to the blend of horse dung and candy that permeates Boston’s Faneuil Hall.
Other historians are attempting to recreate scents from the past, from a cologne used by Napoleon Bonaparte to a Viking-era latrine. What historical smell would you like to experience?
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