Museum Marks Its Scent

by Jack Sommer

Ever wanted to combine the smells of scents around you? It's not quite as simple as putting two food ingredients or sounds together. But thanks to the new MOFAD exhibit, it's a possibility. You may not recognize the MOFAD acronym as much as you do other established names like MOMA, but that's because it's a new establishment. It stands for the Museum of Food and Drink, and this is their first exhibit. "Flavor: Making It And Faking It" includes a smell synthesizer in the museum's Brooklyn space that brings the scent combination ability to reality. You can play sounds on the synthesizer just like you would with music notes.

A Philadelphia research lab, The Monell Chemical Senses Center, was where the technology for the machine got it's start. The museum wanted to figure out a way to have the experience be educational, interactive, and entertaining. The center's senior flavor chemist, Jack Fastag, worked with the MOFAD to develop it. They needed it to be not too expensive to build and easy to change details of the system. 

There are big buttons to make the process happen, intriguing to both adults and kids alike. There were up to twenty chosen in total. Methodically chosen, some were good smells and ones people would know already (such as coconut) but also some not-so-pleasant ones ("cheesy vomit" doesn't sound too great, does it?). Some of the other flavors include:

  • Popcorn
  • Hazelnut
  • Coriander Seed
  • Whiff of smoke
  • Nail polish remover
  • Candy banana

One of the odd combination possibilities that they describe can happen is when you mix the smells of "old, cold coffee, stale grounds in a soggy filter at the end of the day" with a skunk-like "furfuryl mercaptan" scent and the result is a fresh-roast coffee smell. Fastag, the chemist, includes some suggestions of combinations for visitors of the museum to try - but they're also supposed to try some on their own too. Out of this, they can see the designed combinations as well as create their own. 

We know how certain smells are built into establishments such as movie theaters (popcorn) or an M&M store (chocolate). What if the smell synthesizer was adapted to serve and work in environments (installations, events, or spaces) like a fashion event having the scent of an ocean during the showing of a resort-themed collection.

The exhibit, titled "Flavor: Making It And Faking It" will be up until February 28th. Originally posted about on Popular Science.