Capturing the Smell of the Rain


There is something about the smell of rain that strikes a chord inside all of us. We have a deep, unconscious connection to the smell of rain that can dramatically change our mood, our thoughts, and even our vision. But what is? Why does it affect us so strongly and is it possible to capture something so abstract and intangible?

In the small, sun-baked village of Kannauj, India, a small group of artisans have been capturing the smell of rain with a traditional method for over a century. During the long, hot, dry summer, microorganisms living in the soil excrete a compound named geosmin into the dirt. Humans are sensitive to only a few parts per billion of geosmin and when the long-awaited monsoon rains finally hit the dry soil of Kannaujl, they unlock the geosmin particles sending them into the air to give the rain its characteristic smell. Villagers harvest this precious dirt, place it in giant copper pots called degs, and distill its essence into a prized attar. The attar titled Mitti Attar or “earth’s perfume” is rare but is a pure, true expression of the monsoon rains in northern India.

In Western Australia, a similar dry season is nearing an end and the native Pitjantjatjara people look around at the brown, barren landscape and begin to mysteriously see the color green before a single raindrop has fallen. This “cultural synesthesia” – as Diana Young from the University of Queensland calls it – is a result of the geosmin carried in on the pre-monsoon breeze. The Pitjantjatjara have been so in tune with this natural cycle that the smell of the coming rains have actually changed how they perceive the world. Professor Young believes that our bodies and minds are evolutionarily programmed to respond to the smell of rain.

The smell of rain is just as complex as our relationship to it. Although geosmin is a throughline in most of our experiences, it is certainly not the only piece of the puzzle. The smell of rain in Northern India is very different from that of the rain in Western Australia, or New York City, or Munich or anywhere else. In combination with geosmin, the smell of rain is also composed of ozone produced through lightning and downdrafts during storms. Volatile aromatic compounds from the plants are also drawn into the air adding to the complex cocktail of rain aromas.

Referred to as Petrichor, (from the greek “blood of the gods”) this mixture of odors varies from place to place, experience to experience and even from storm to storm. At OVR we hope to travel around the world capturing the different rainstorms to continually grow our library into a global olfactory map of the rain.

Lending our expertise and resources to fight COVID-19

OVR Technology was founded on the mission of using our expertise in using technology to solve real-world problems. Unfortunately, one of those problems which is affecting all of our lives is the spread of COVID-19. Like most of you, OVR Technology has taken rather extreme steps to ensure the health and safety of our employees while we continue to push the development of our technology and company forward.

Like so many others, we have transitioned to working remotely. As a VR focused company we have been experimenting not only with the usual remote collaboration tools, but we have also been experimenting with several VR based collaboration tools. In a future post, we will elaborate more on some of the VR focused collaboration tools we have been experimenting with.

Today, however, we’d like to focus on some incredible people and resources that are seeking to help create necessary supplies for helping those on the front lines of this battle.

One of the technologies we employ in the prototyping and development of our VR scent solution are the various 3D Printers that we use every day. Through my personal and professional network, we discovered many open-source hardware projects putting these machines to work to produce needed parts and supplies to our medical professionals.

I personally, have joined a number of these collaborations and have been putting some of our printers to work on these projects. I encourage you, if you are able, and have some of these tools to join as many of these efforts as you can.

Some Open Source projects of note:



  • And finally, I have partnered with Wes Garcia of Megadeluxe and have started an instagram feed that is focused on simple solutions that can turn baseball caps into simple face shields.

All of this collaboration and energy is coming from everyday folks who don’t feel like just sitting on the sidelines, but are actively asking how can I help, what resources and skills do I have that can help to make a dent in this current situation. Personally, being a part of many of these efforts and watching a lot of this innovation live, is rewarding, and is a real sight to behold. It is also a real awakening for what disrupted de-centralized manufacturing can do on a global scale.

We hope technology like these will help end this crisis sooner.

Stay healthy and wash your hands.