For her masters degree at London's Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, artist Amy Radcliffe invented a camera that records scents instead of images. The camera, called a Madeleine -- named for a pastry in a Marcel Proust novel that triggers 3,000 pages of childhood memories -- allows users to bottle the scents that define their lives.
"Our sense of smell is believed to have a direct link to our emotional memory," Radcliffe said on her artist's page for the Madeleine. Science has established that scent can be a potent trigger of memory. Our olfactory bulb, the part of the brain that processes scent, is integrated directly into the brain's limbic system, associated with memory and emotion.
According to Wired magazine, the Madeleine uses headspace technology "used by scientists and fragrance houses for decades." A Madeleine user operates the machine by putting the Madeleine's glass bulb over the subject or the smell environment. An air hose draws the scent into a trap lined with absorbent polymer resin. Radcliffe told Wired that some scents, "like citrus fruit," can take only minutes to capture, while others, like "a person's skin," can take hours.
Radcliffe told the Guardian she hopes scents trapped by the Madeleine will be sent, like photographic negatives of old, to a developers' lab outfitted with a gas chromatography–mass spectrometry machine.
"It's like a huge electric nose," Radcliffe explained to the Guardian, referring to the analytic machine. "It processes the particles and produces a graph-like formula that makes up the smell. From this formula, you can artificially recreate the precise odor." The formula would allow the scent to be recreated and bottled in jewel-like capsules. Users could later snap open the capsules to smell lost scents and relive memories.
“Your odor memories are very fragile. If you smell something too often, you’ll erase that memory,” Radcliffe told Wired. “With the Madeleine you snap them open, get a hit of that memory, and then it’s gone.”
According to the Guardian, Radcliffe is currently looking to collaborate with fragrance labs that will take her ideas further.