From the smell of your mother’s cooking to the perfume worn but your high school sweetheart, smells can instantly transport us to a time and a place.
That is the concept behind the smell memory kit, which links important life moments with a sent.
The kit was developed by Norwegian smell researcher Sissel Tolaas. She started her work in the 1990s, spending seven years collecting over 7,000 smells across the world.
SuperSense, the firm behind the kit, tasked Tolaas with creating a way for people to capture a memory in a smell.
The result is a box of three ampules containing one of 1,500 so-called abstract smell molecules, which do not smell of anything in particular - meaning they are a clean slate for memories, created by Tolaas.
Scientists who linked the smell of carbon dioxide with the “gas” scent in 1927 that we now recognise as a sign of danger is an example of how an abstract odour can be linked to a thought or a memory as a means of communication.
To link a particular moment – be it a wedding, a funeral, or an important piece of information – the owner of the kit snaps open an ampule and inhales to link the memory and the abstract smell.
Opening up the ampule and inhaling the smell is supposed to transport the person back to that moment in time. When the liquid evaporates, more can be ordered from the Supersense HQ in Vienna. Similarly to sharing photographs, amulets with one smell can be handed out to many people at one event connect the same sent to that experience.
This may sound like a lot of effort to go to when the smartphones in our pockets can also capture memories, and at 99 euros a pop it isn’t cheap. But Tolaas stresses that the smell kit, and connecting odours and thoughts in general, changes how we value moments.
“You really have to interact with the device and consider whether you really want to give the molecule to this moment. So you value memories in a different way. It makes you question what is memory? What do we want to remember?”
The Smell Kit is a small part of Tolaas’ wider work. Her two-decades of research have seen her travel to every continent in the world collecting smells – by deconstructing them into molecules and storing them in her archive - and attempting to better understand the sense. Using mathematics, chemistry, art and language in the process, she truly is a Renaissance woman.
And her passion shows no sign of abating. After many years, she is resolute she doesn’t not have a favourite smell.
“Everything is interesting I’m so passionate and enthusiastic about my work. I wake up in the morning like “yes!” In my world everything is possible a lot of things don’t work, but I get so many surprises and that aspect is so amazing. Every smell has so much potential."Reuse content