Could a new ‘smell camera’ be the key to unlocking memories?

Written by Active Minds on Sunday the 27th of September 2015.


New smell camera for capturing scent

Whether it’s the scent of a loved one or the subtle aroma of your old house, we all know certain smells trigger powerful memories. That’s why one innovative design student at Central Saint Martins is exploring the possibility of capturing our favourite scents through a new form of ‘smell camera’.

Amy Radcliffe – who is working towards her MA at the university’s Textile Futures departments – has recently unveiled The Madeleine, a groundbreaking piece of equipment containing an odour trapping material named Tenax. When air containing your desired scent is passed over the Tenax, the porous material traps it for processing later. Subtle smells, such as the atmosphere of your favourite room for example, can take days to capture but stronger smells can be caught in just a few minutes.

Radcliffe hopes that, in the future, captured smells could be taken to labs, processed and then recreated artificially, providing a scent snapshot that could be enjoyed for years to come.

While an interesting project for the public in general, The Madeleine offers particularly exciting possibilities for people living with dementia. A recent study carried out by Stockholm University identified smell as the most powerful and most direct sense for accessing memories, with the majority of participants recalling as far back as their early childhood when exposed to familiar smells.

The Madeleine is currently being tested by a state-of-the-art fragrance lab but, all things being well, it might not be long before scent snapshots can be used alongside other reminiscence activities to comfort and connect with those living with dementia.