UNIQORN // How Modern Science Unravels the Ancient Alchemy Recipes


Can we recreate the scents of the past using modern experimental methods?
What chemistry and history can teach each other about smell and scent in the ancient world?

Sean Coughlin – the philosopher working in an organic chemistry lab trying to figure out ancient perfumery’s place in the history of science. We will look at how a group of researchers at the Alchemies of Scent project are using modern experimental techniques to unravel the recipes of five Greco-Egyptian perfumes from the time of Alexander the Great and Cleopatra VII. And we’ll take some time not just to see and hear about the chemistry and alchemy of ancient perfume makers, but to smell, touch and taste some of the materials they may have used.

Sean Coughlin is a research fellow at the Institute of Philosophy and associate scientist at IOCB. After a PhD in philosophy at the University of Western Ontario, he was postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Classical Philology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, as well as visiting researcher in Canada, Germany, and Israel. His work in ancient perfumery has been exhibited at the National Geographic Museum and has been covered by organizations like Czech Television, the BBC, and Washington Post. His current project, Alchemies of Scent, brings together a multidisciplinary team from humanities and natural sciences who use historical, philological and modern scientific methods to uncover how the art of perfumery influenced science, medicine, art and culture in antiquity.

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We are a community of enthusiastic UCT students and researchers who want to support, encourage, and empower each other on the hard going of higher education and scientific research career. UNIQORN aims to bring together people from various scientific branches and levels of the university, including undergraduates, PhD students, researchers, and teachers, who all might come with a variety of topics to discuss, ideas to realize and ways how to think out of the box.


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