As part of the Data Then and Now seminar series, Christy Spackman from Arizona State University will be presenting a lecture called “Data You Can Smell: Gas Chromatography and the Promise of Olfactory Policing.” Please join us for Christy’s lecture on January 15th, 2020 from 4:00-5:00 PM in the Seminar Room of the WRF Data Science Studio.
This talk examines how the technique of gas chromatography-olfactometry was mobilized by researchers in the 1960s and ‘70s in an effort to generate olfactory data that could be used to identify and police foods and bodies. Early efforts to characterize the qualities of volatile (and thus smell-able) molecules crossed disciplinary boundaries, bringing together researchers interested in food, perfume, and military defense. Combining the gas chromatograph with a human nose as detector allowed researchers to begin cataloging what molecules mattered in the volatile mixtures obtained from smelly things – and people. Researchers refined their ability to use gas chromatography-olfactometry to make data about molecules by first making molecules into data: from testing whether people of different races and sexes had different olfactory “fingerprints,” to characterizing and then erasing women’s naturally-occurring vaginal odors. The process of making molecules into data proved central to the standardization of gas chromatography-olfactometry; it paved the way for the development of ASTM’s Atlas of Odor Character Profiles, and continues to shape contemporary smell research.
The Data Then and Now seminar series explores the social and organizational history of data and data practices in order to better understand the current data-intensive moment through its antecedents and continuities. It features invited speakers from across the country and around the world. For more information, please visit the Data Then and Now web page.