Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Nosing in the Future: A Periodic Table for Smell

I have a confession to make; I'm a science geek. The sight of a well done periodic table of elements sends tingles down my spine and puts a really big smile on my face. The Royal Society of Chemistry has helped develop a visual interpretation of the periodic table of elements that is interactive and exponentially cool. Chemistry World, the magazine for the Royal Society of Chemists, offers Chemistry in its Element, a periodic table of elements embedded with stories. Click on an element in the chart and a podcast narrated in a British accent is activated. (Note to fellow geeks: are your knees buckling yet?). 

I've often wondered when a digitized version of the Jean Carles Naturals Chart, a tool used for olfactory training in perfumery, would be developed for the public. It would permit anyone who wanted to build an olfactory vocabulary something more than flavor wheels can offer (flavor wheels are focused on retronasal olfaction versus the innate qualities of raw materials, so the flavor wheel approach is only halfway there for those who want to learn about their sense of smell).

The fragrance industry should take a cue from the Royal Society of Chemists and get this project started. Imagine the sound of a perfumer's voice reading an ingredient story against a well designed Jean Carles Naturals Chart. It would be a great way to evangelize the art of perfumery online and bring the foodie crowd into the fold. 

In lieu of an interactive Jean Carles Naturals Chart we can reference Natalie Dee's Periodic Table of Smellements. It is an olfactory periodic table based on a method of categorization that includes the following descriptors: neutral, atmospheric, natural, appetizing, funky, pleasant, kind of bad and freaking gross. It's a cool piece of smell culture for budding olfactorialists.

When I wrote "Exposing the Perfumer" for the May 2007 edition of Perfumer and Flavorist Givaudan graciously agreed to liberate the Jean Carles olfactory training charts and gave the magazine permission to include them. It is one of the few places the Jean Carles charts can be found today.

Jean Carles developed a method for training perfumers and founded the perfumery school at Givaudan when it was the Roure Perfumery School. In his later years he developed anosmia, but was still able to compose fragrances (like Beethoven who composed music when he was deaf). The classic fragrances Jean Carles created include, but are not limited to: Tabu, Canoe, Miss Dior, Ma Griffe, L'Air du Temps and Cabochard.

Image of the Visual Elements Periodic Table is from the Royal Society of Chemistry.

If you like Chemistry in its Element you'll love part two; Distilling the Compounds that Count.

Image of the Cognac Aroma Wheel is from the Bureau International du Cognac. It's one of the most beautiful and well-designed flavor wheels in existence.

Image of Natalie Dee's Periodic Table of Smellements is from her webpage. She's the author of the daily comic Natalie Dee and can be found on Twitter @nataliedee .