If you like perfumes and fragrances, you can thank the ancient Egyptians for coming up with ways to carry our favorite scents along with us throughout the day. From flowers to wood shavings to laundry soap, fragrances evoke strong memories and help connect us to an event or object or even to one another. Scientists are utilizing new ways to harness this power of scent to make technology more immersive and even let us catch a whiff of places where we might never be able to venture.
It's called "headspace," and it's the technology that perfumers use to recreate a scent for a specific fragrance, either because the natural plant is too rare to harvest or because its aroma is too unstable to use in a formula. With headspace, perfumers can capture the essence of a scent and recreate it in a lab by decoding its properties. Think of it like a smell camera that captures an olfactory moment and allows researchers to pull apart the scents in a lab. Check out The Curiosity Chronicles for the nitty-gritty on the science of headspace.
Perfumers have been using this technology for years to develop their formulas, but now other industries are getting in on the game, finding ways to use headspace to bring a fifth dimension to the digital age.
Researchers can use headspace to recreate the smell of a place, like a classroom or forest, to stimulate memory or simply to make a virtual reality experience more immersive. They are also using it to recreate difficult-to-capture aromas like rain on cobblestones or a sea breeze, or even out-of-this world locations that we've never smelled.
According to Space.com, scientists have used the data captured by Mars robots to understand the composition of the atmosphere on Mars — sulfur, acids, magnesium, iron, carbon dioxide and chlorine compounds. But they don't really know what that smells like. Using headspace, they can recreate the precise spectrum of components to develop a close proximity to the Mars aroma. And this could be used to help astronauts prepare for an eventual Mars landing, or maybe even to make Mars-based movies or video games more immersive.
But before you go out and buy a bottle of eau-du-Mars, you should know that it's probably not going to smell very good. With all of that sulfur in the atmosphere, it's likely to smell a lot like rotten eggs. Not exactly the kind of smell that would inspire a new line of candles, but it would certainly make the next sci-fi movie more interesting to watch.