When you think of art, you probably imagine paintings, sculpture, or even music. Art doesn’t only have to be observed through your eyes and ears, though. Mengyu Liu ’19 is dedicated to producing art that appeals to the nose.
“There are not a lot of people trying to explore artistic expression for the smell,” says Liu. “I think it has a lot of potential. It’s a way to discover new artistic expressions and new experiences.”
Liu’s interest in the fragrance world is something he discovered while pursuing a biochemistry and molecular biology major at Trinity.
“From the beginning, I really liked chemistry,” says Liu. “It was what I wanted to do in the future. Meanwhile, during my second year, I was really fascinated by the olfactive (fragrance) world, so I thought, ‘maybe I can combine those two.’"
Trinity’s focus on the liberal arts and undergraduate research prepared Liu for his future in fragrance.
“The studies I did at Trinity were really helpful, especially organic chemistry and analytical chemistry,” he says. “At Trinity we did a lot of research, labs, and group projects that involved students and professors. The professors provided us with a lot of valuable feedback."
He once spent long hours working on a biochemistry project with chemistry professor Corina Maeder, Ph.D., studying how different constituents of a molecule can affect its olfactive content. His undergraduate research further cemented his future goals in perfumery.
“I did a lot of summer courses during the summer of my sophomore year at Grasse Institute of Perfumery,” says Liu. “I really enjoyed it. The entire process really brought me a lot of joy and happiness, which further confirmed that I really wanted to do this in my future.”
After graduating in 2019, Liu attended ISIPCA, a French perfumery school founded by famous perfumer Jacques Guerlain. Liu received his masters from ISIPCA and now works in Paris at Symrise, a global fragrance company, his job includes consumer insight, marketing, and fragrance evaluation.
“I smell the perfumes created by our perfumer team,” Liu says. “My job is to make a creative story about the fragrance based on its olfactive properties. The story I create has to be related to the motives of the perfumer when they created the perfume.”
Although his current job may sound more artistic than scientific, chemistry still plays a major role in fragrance evaluation.
“There are a lot of sides to perfumery,” he says. “For example, for the creative side, you need the artistic talent to create this imaginary thing, to create a story. You’re also required to know the chemistry side, in terms of evaluating the stability and the safety of the solutions, and how to analyze a fragrance formula from a competitor, by using analytical tools, like GC-MS and HPLC.”
Liu has even grander plans for his future. He hopes to eventually open a fragrance school in his hometown Chengdu, China, where there is a lack of resources regarding perfumery.
“People want to know more about perfumery, about the fragrance products, and the industry, but it’s very hard for them to find the information and resources to be educated. That’s something that I want to do.”
In the header photo, Liu uses a fragrance evaluation machine called Olfactory GC-MS, which separates olfactory molecules in a sample.