Olfactory Time Capsule for Earthly Memories

Each new technology forces us to confront who we are as humans.  As technological innovations in deep space exploration keep advancing, and space travel becomes more accessible to the broader population, what might become of our memories of Earth? 

Speculating on a future where some of us might embark on a one-way trip into space, this project investigates the sensory modalities of memory beyond the digital.  In addition to the terabytes of data that we are sure to bring with us on this long journey, what other forms of communication and connection might we invent for an extraterrestrial future? Olfaction has been shown to have strong ties to emotion and memory. 

This project consists of a sensory token for astronauts that contains the unique scent of three memories of Earth: that of a loved one, that of a home, and that of a natural resource. Chemically, the fragrances are embedded in a special polymer designed to contain and release the scents over a long period of time. Through a dial, the user can choose to program and re-live one of three Earth experiences through an immersive olfactive experience. As an emotional time capsule, this project is akin to the Voyager Golden Record, but for precious smells. An exploration in the use of science for emotional ends, this project investigates alternative biological and perceptual modalities of communication and memory through olfaction.

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Zero Gravity Flight:

This project was deployed in zero gravity on a research grant from the MIT Media Lab Space Initiative, with corporate support from IFF (International Flavors and Fragrances).  The capsule I wore for this flight contained three different single molecule odors inspired by memories of Earth, and several points of biometric data were taken from my body as I experienced the different smell.s  Below are some images from this flight:

 

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