Odors define many things: plants, foods, people. But how does technology define odors? In this talk, we will take a close look at how the combination of computing, human noses and a novel analytical chemistry instrument, the gas chromatograph, were used in the 1960s in an effort to solve the "problem" of vaginal malodors, often described as — or attributed to consumption of — strongly flavored foods such as garlic. We will look at how medical researchers mimicked patterns from the food industry for ordering the world of taste and smell, using those patterns to characterize and then medically reign in the excess smells of the body and its microbial and microbial companions. That promise reverberated out into society in ways that continue to haunt larger efforts to order people, even as the technology itself has shifted.
Trained in chemistry, the culinary arts and food studies, Christy Spackman critically examines how science and technology have come to shape sensory experiences of smelling and tasting. She is an assistant professor, jointly appointed between the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Art, Media and Engineering Department at ASU.