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A simple, filter-based device to capture environmental scents

Image credit: https://www.indiamart.com/mganalyser/aerosol-monitors.html#low-volume-frm-air-sampler; https://myerstest.com/product/glass-fiber-filters/

Povilas S
Povilas S Feb 10, 2022
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A device that captures the scent of surrounding air by sucking it through a specialized filter. The filter is designed to absorb and retain scents.
  • Currently, the only effective method to capture airborne scents is headspace technology, but it's only used to capture scents present in a headspace of an odorous object, like a flower, not the lingering scent of the environment.
  • "Record" smells of different environments.
  • Invoke memories of a specific place by smelling a sample of its' scent.
  • Know how a certain place smelled at a particular time, during a significant event there (a concert, a gathering, filming of the movie, etc.) even if you haven't been there (a scent sample could be sold and shipped to you, this provides a business opportunity).
  • Monitor how the smell in a particular place changes as time passes, e.g. place a device in a meadow and "record" the smells of different seasons.
  • Would be useful for olfactory research, e.g. testing of this hypothesis.
How it works:
The device:
A proposed device is simply an air pump with a specialized, scent retaining filter covering the air inlet. A device would be similar to a filter-based collector of atmospheric aerosols. Just, in this case, the filter would be designed to capture scents (volatile compounds) instead of particulate matter.
The optimal airflow for best capturing of air scents should be determined in advance as well as the optimal time of absorption. The pump turns off automatically after the intended time is reached.
A piece of fabric of a particular composition and thickness could work as a filter.
A simple proof that air scents can be captured on fabrics is the fact that our clothes absorb and retain environmental scents. After walking outside your cotton scarf or a woolen jacket often smells like outside air for a while. In the same way your clothes can also retain the smell of indoor environments you often spend time in. If fabrics can absorb scents lingering in the air just by being kept in that environment for a while, passing an airflow created by an air pump through them should intensify the absorption/retention of smells.
Filters should be sterile (autoclaved or otherwise sterilized not to let microorganisms multiply and their metabolism products contaminate the smell of the sample). Fabrics used to absorb unpleasant odours could potentially work for making such filters, I suppose they are good for absorbing any odour, not just unpleasant ones. The filter itself should have no or minimal smell of its own.
New filters would be kept in tightly sealed plastic bags to prevent premature scent contamination. After collecting environmental scent, the filter would be placed in the same bag from which it was taken, the bag would prevent the collected scent from fading as well as prevent the filter from attracting additional scents from environment.
The user takes the new filter out of the bag (preferably with the tweezers or gloves), opens the device, puts it in a dedicated frame, closes the device, and starts the air pump.
Other aspects:
Such an air pump with insertable scent collecting filters could possibly be made small enough for anyone willing to carry in their backpack and collect scents whenever they go. All you'd need is to change filters and store them in a specialized case, this would take some space and perhaps remind a case of a professional photo camera.
Because such a filter-based scent capture method wouldn't aim to recreate the molecular composition of a certain scent, only to capture the whim of the general air scent, it would be enough trying filters of different compositions and seeing how reminiscent the captured scent is to that lingering in the air that was pumped through the filter. This could be done by comparing the two scents using only the human nose.
Creative contributions

Scent "vinyls"

Povilas S
Povilas S Feb 14, 2022
Such devices could be used to create scent samples of various places and events. This could lead to a profitable business.
Imagine the recording of the live performance of your favorite band on youtube, they play somewhere outside in tropical surroundings, like here :
The scent of the surroundings was also recorded during the performance using the proposed device. So you can click on a link next to a youtube video and get a scent sample in a form of a round filter sealed in a zip bag. The filter-containing bag could also be round and have a shot (like the one above) from the performance printed on it. You could smell the sample while watching the video and have a richer sensory experience of the event.
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General comments

jnikola2 years ago
Wait, but why do you think the headspace technology couldn't be used for this purpose? Just because it has been used to capture smells above certain flowers, it doesn't mean it cannot be used to capture environmental smells. When talking about environmental smells, they are not as strong or interesting as perfumes, but could possibly be captured by the same system. I guess adding a small piece of smell-retaining fabric in the collecting vial would definitely help to preserve the odor longer, but the technology is here, right?
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Povilas S
Povilas S2 years ago
J. Nikola Headspace technology is comparatively sophisticated. The capture of smells that way is used to figure out molecular composition of the fragrance so that it could be recreated (it is mostly used for perfume making). This makes it not suitable for everyday recreational use.
What I propose is a rather simple method that requires simple gear. The most complicated part here would be figuring out the right composition for the filter to absorb and retain scents well. That's it.
I'm quite surprised something like that isn't popularized yet. Perhaps the reason for this is the lack of motivation. The invention of headspace technology was motivated by huge profits that can result from it. Here you need some amateurs who are interested in "lukewarm" scent preserving for the sake of recreational interest. I'm eager to test this method myself, all you need to start is an air pump and a piece of fabric.
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Michaela D
Michaela D2 years ago
I have wished many times that I could capture the smell of an object, person, or place! I guess that it wouldn't be so hard to make the technology work. Another great application: pump smells in the cinema to enhance the movie experience. For that, you would need a powerful pump and strong smells, though!
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Povilas S
Povilas S2 years ago
Michaela D There is a technology to capture the smell of an odorous object already in place, it's called headspace technology and it's used by some perfumers to find out chemical compositions of natural fragrances produced by flowers, etc.
But there is no technology (as far as I know) used to capture the scent of the environment which lingers in the air. You could perhaps modify the headspace devices to do this, but another issue is that headspace technology is pretty sophisticated because it's designed to enable a precise chemical analysis of a particular fragrance. There is no simple device to enable smell capturing for everyday use.
I think producing smells in cinemas to enhance the cinematic experience was long abandoned. The main issue is perhaps that once you introduced a certain smell in the air, you'd have to remove it to introduce the next one, otherwise, they'll mix ruining the purpose. Individual smell-inducing masks might work better. But then all the viewers would look like patients in a hospital room wearing life support:)
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