This Artist Used Science to Replicate the Scent of People

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Ani Liu. Photo: Courtesy of National Geographic Channel

While most people just want a fragrance that smells good and isn’t too strong for everyday use, artist and innovative scientist Ani Liu makes perfumes that smell like a specific memory or person. She once created a plant that smelled like her grandparents, which ultimately led to her the create the Human Perfume project, which takes the essence of her favorite people and turns them into a wearable fragrance that can spur fond memories.

When she explains it, the MIT Media Lab graduate makes it sound so simple. Liu told National Geographic, “Part of that process is to extract the volatile molecules from garments [test subjects] have worn and fix that into a solvent. It was a lot of experimentation. I had to try a lot of different solvents, concentrations, and settings in the distillation process.”

While taking molecules from someone’s clothes and putting them in a solvent for several weeks sounds doable for the science-minded, Liu confessed it involved a lot of trial and error. She said she tried to formulate her husband’s aura, but ended up with something that he said smelled “disgusting,” like his brother. Harsh!

In total, Liu bottled up six people including herself, her husband, and her parents, which she was passionate about because she knows they will pass away one day and wanted to create a sort of time capsule. “It’s kind of uncanny to unscrew a bottle and smell a person,” she says.

Liu is also hard at work creating molds of her lips, feet, nose, and belly button by using microbes for her self-portrait project, Kisses From the Future. Everything she does is to question our views of what reality is. “It’s important because we need a wider breadth of points of views,” Liu said. “Imagine how problematic it could be if the only people who investigated reality were of a specific gender or cultural background?”

This Artist Used Science to Replicate the Scent of People