What Is A Smell?
When you’re a company that makes smells, what exactly is a smell? Does it differ from a fragrance or an odor? Here, we explain what a smell actually is, how it's connected to more than just your nose, and how we re-create scents for VR technology.
First, What Is A Smell?
Smell is complex. And there is not a lot of agreed-upon language for how to talk about smell. “Odor is perhaps the most scientifically accurate term,” says Aaron Wisniewski of OVR Technology. Odor is a collection of aroma molecules or volatile compounds. A mixture of these molecules can come from organic and inorganic sources, and almost anything in the world can have an odor.
So, how does smell work exactly?
A cocktail of molecules goes through your nose, interacts with your olfactory system, and from there your brain associates it with a memory or emotion. “The part of your brain that processes smell has no capacity for language. This is why we can’t figure out how to talk about odor because when we experience it, we can’t measure odor objectively. It’s a subjective and personal thing,” says Wisniewski.
How Man-Made Smells Differ
Compared to so-called “natural” odors, man-made odors are meant to mimic natural fragrances, but sometimes they can (be it intentionally or not) linger longer or smell more potent.
Man-made smells are similar to naturally-occurring smells in that they are a collection of aroma molecules that when you experience them together you perceive as rose or you perceive forest. “When I re-create the smell of a rose, coffee, or the forest, I can re-create it exactly as it should be,” says Wisniewski. To recreate any smell, it has to be rebuilt molecule by molecule. Most of the time, though, when smells are recreated in a lab, some of the pieces are left out. It’s a simplified version. That doesn’t make it any less effective or less natural smelling. In fact, it’s indistinguishable from the lavender you’d smell growing in a garden.
How Inhale by OVR Scents Are Made
When recreating smells, the molecules can come from so-called natural sources or petrochemicals. Just because a scent comes from a natural source doesn’t mean it’s labeled natural and vice-a-versa. And also, when a scent doesn’t originate from a natural source, it doesn’t make it dangerous or unhealthy.
At OVR, we produce scents that are natural, meaning we are re-creating smells that nature gave us. We are not creating perfume. “When we re-create a smell in VR, we rebuild that smell molecule by molecule in our lab. Nature is our model, not a cheap air freshener,” says Wisniewski.