He has never worn a diving suit or been in space, but in his laboratory in south-western France, crammed with flasks, “scent sculptor” Michaël Moisseeff has reconstituted the smell … of the Moon.
With his flower-patterned shirt and white hair tied at the back, this 66-year-old man, who studied genetics, has dedicated his life to unraveling the mysteries of smell and producing, from molecules, all kinds of smells, fragrances, and effusions.
“To recreate the smell of undergrowth, for example, you first have to go. Is there moss? Lichens? Humidity? I do an inventory and gather my elements, like a painter with his color palette, and then I work on the proportions to try to refine the result as much as possible, ”explains the expert.
But for the Moon, the Toulouse City of Space, the forerunner of the project, “did not want to pay for the trip,” he jokes Moisseeff in his house, transformed into a museum of a thousand aromas.
Manufacture the smell of the Moon? The crazy gamble of a French “scent sculptor”
The only thing this “scent sculptor”, as he defines himself, has been able to do has been to resort to the descriptions made by various astronauts who walked on the Moon, such as Neil Armstrong.
“In the absence of oxygen on the Moon, he obviously couldn’t smell anything, but as soon as he got back to the module, the smell of dust that had stuck to his diving suit reminded him of the burnt black powder from old rifles.”, it states.
Coal and sulfur
How to reproduce it? Moisseeff decided to explode, in their pots, black powder. After several failed attempts and a few scares, he managed to “capture” a burnt well.
Then, when he already had the desired smell in mind, this 21st-century alchemist gathered various elements in his laboratory to obtain a result of metallic, carbonaceous, and sulfurous notes that cause a tingle both in the nose and in the imagination.
“This enigmatic smell reproduced from the descriptions of some astronauts are reminiscent of aromas known as gunpowder from cannons or ash from the chimney, but that does not mean that there is this on the Moon,” he clarifies Xavier Penot, scientific communicator in the City of Space.
“An odor is when a molecule binds to a receptor in the olfactory mucosa, generating a signal that will cause a sensation,” he explains. Moisseeff.
“And this sensation is absolutely individual, depending on genetics and what one has lived through,” he adds, specifying that humans have about 260 olfactory receptors.
Rousseff, A native of Paris, decided to move to the south-west of France 40 years ago so that his daughter would “grow up far from pollution” and since then he has worked tirelessly in developing the olfactory culture of the general public.
“With smells, it happens as with music, you have to make your scales all the time,” he defends.
The “scientific artist” has spent years designing installations and olfactory experiences in telephone booths, entire towns or show halls, attending to commissions from museums, associations, or companies, and conducts training and workshops on “smells tasting”.
Your next challenge? «Reconstruct the smell of Gioconda’ That is a perfume from the Renaissance period. “A meticulous work of historical research,” he says, excited.