For 100 years now, we have thought about Marcel Proust’s olfactory memory concept developed in his novel “Remembrance of Things Past” every time a smell came about to trigger our recollection of past events.
Now, Proust’s Madeleine theory is no longer a bare concept. It has been transformed into a smell camera that captures odors, rather than images. Suggestively entitled Madeleine, as an homage to Proust’s legendary tea cake experience, the analogue odor camera is a prototype recently uncovered by designer Amy Radcliffe.
So, how does Madeleine work? It basically records a smell’s molecular structure and it reproduces that smell in print form. While this may sound easy, it actually isn’t. The source of the smell that is to be recorded is placed under a glass dome, a pump will later extract it and the process can last a full day, depending on how subtle or strong the smell is.
The essence is then trapped within the particles of a resin, which serve as data recording sources. The fingerprint of the formula is recorded within a graph-like formula and this is reproduced artificially and transcribed onto a bronze disk.
According to the designer, “all the olfactory components of a smell can be reproduced in a lab.” But the process can take time. “If it is easier to capture the smell of freshly cut grass, it can take longer to be able to gather all the tiny particles that will define an odor people associate with an old room, or a particular landscape spot,” Radcliffe says.
While it seems to function according to a complicated formula, the new smell capturing camera has however a strong emotional impact. “The memory of a smell in our childhood or earlier life is so powerful and can seem to bypass all consciousness to trigger an emotional reaction,” admits the designer.
But if you are considering an investment in this technology, you should know this is hardly ready for the market yet. The designer herself deems it a working prototype, and adds that it could use some tweaking and some proper lab equipment access, which she hasn’t had. Another issue is the cost of such a project, which, Radcliffe admits, “can be significant, depending on the smell components.” So, if you were hoping to capture the smell of something pricey, like diamonds or a precious painting, these are not likely to happen.
Until then, all those nostalgic after their mom’s baked goods have no better alternative than to learn baking them by following a cookbook’s instructions.
[Image via Mashable]