smell fan

smell fan

I’m a SMELL FAN. Are you? 



Discover the 2022 Philadelphia Flower Show through scent using SMELL FAN, a handheld fan created by Rowan University in collaboration with the Monell  Chemical Senses Center to circulate air and olfactory enthusiasm. 

Explore your world with our botanical fragrance field guide, organized using ten categories adapted from Ken Druse’s book The Scentual Garden (an American Horticultural Society 2020 Award Winner) and crowd-sourced smell descriptions collected and mapped during the first outdoor Flower Show in 2021 by Rowan and Monell. 


User Guide:

SMELL FAN is a conversation piece, an opening for talking about smell experience of all kinds, including smell memories and smell loss.  Performatively proclaim your olfactory (smell) enthusiasm by outwardly facing the “i’m a SMELL FAN” side of the fan towards others.  To learn more about the ways our sense of smell is critical to human health and well-being, visit the Monell Center

SMELL FAN is a botanical fragrance field guide. Use it to describe and discuss your smell experience with plants at the Flower Show, on a sidewalk, in a park or garden. Can you locate and smell an aromatic plant in each of the ten categories at the Flower Show? Notice that each botanical fragrance category includes an aromatic native plant illustration. How many of these ten native pollinator plants can you find and smell today?  

SMELL FAN is a handheld fan for moving aromatic air towards (or away) from yourself.  Use it to stay cool on hot summer days and as a reminder to pause, sniff, and sense. What do you notice?  Something? Follow the scent trail wherever it leads! Nothing? Find a plant, gently rub a leaf to release the aromatic oils. Sniff again. What do you smell? Use the descriptive examples to help discuss and categorize your smell experience or a smell memory. 


Project Goals: 

This Rowan-Monell collaboration develops and applies arts-based public engagement strategies for the purpose of:

  • understanding olfactory experience at the Philadelphia Flower Show and within urban and public spaces more broadly
  • increasing  awareness of the role of smell and smell loss in health and well-being 
  • inviting public audiences to participate in the science of smell,  such as taking SCENTinel, a quick and easy patented smell test designed by Monell scientists. 
  • Creating undergraduate student research opportunities for creatively engaging with smell through an interdisciplinary lense


About this Project:

The Monell Center and academic affiliate Rowan University partnered on a sensory exploration and public engagement project at the 2021 Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Philadelphia Flower Show.  Due to COVID-19 restrictions on indoor gatherings, the Flower Show was held outdoors for the first time in its history, with organizers transforming Philadelphia’s FDR Park into a spectacular exhibition themed “HABITAT: Nature’s Masterpiece.”

This project was conceived and implemented during the pandemic, when a heightened awareness of smell was becoming an integral part of our habitat, inside our homes and outside in nature. Outreach Monell staff, Karen Kreeger and Ahmed Barakat, collaborated with Dr. Jen Kitson, faculty in the Departments of Art and Geography, Planning and Sustainability at Rowan, to develop a sensory exploration of the Flower Show in her Smell Art Studio course.  Three students in the Ric Edelman College of Communication and Creative Arts designed and implemented an interactive method for creatively engaging and educating the public about their smell experience at the first outdoor PHS Philadelphia Flower Show: Jennifer Araya (Graphic Design), ​Victoria Esquilin (Art Education) and Noel Waldron (PR & Art).  We then invited visitors to engage the Flower Show through their noses, and record their smell experience on a large map of the exhibition using a custom sticker. 

British artist Dr. Kate McLean worked with us on this project, offering guidance based on her extensive experience leading and mapping smell walks; Smell Art students and Monell staff undertook field research together at FDR Park using  Dr. McLean’s Smellfie kit: A smell walking guide 

During the Spring 2022 semester, artist and jewelry professor Donna Sweigart joined the collaboration to work on visualizing the crowdsourced smell-map data into a “smell  wheel,” a graphical convention for identifying and categorizing scent, which also doubles as a smell fan,  a device for moving (scented) air.  Handheld fans have served as both wearable art and jewelry and  advertisement and communication objects, both of which we engaged in this project. Angela Ellsworth’s  iconic smell art performance using a hand fan, titled Actual Odor (1997), was inspirational to SMELL FAN. Two undergraduate courses, Sweigart’s 3D Modeling for Artists and Designers  Studio and Kitson’s Public Art and Social Practice Studio, were enlisted in researching  the fan as a smell data visualization tool through creating fan  prototypes using 3D printing and hand paper making. Undergraduate Graphic Design student Shayne Shands worked with Sweigart and Kitson on the development and design of the commercially printed SMELL FAN.  

Shand’s original design is inspired by urban nature and place; Philadelphia’s skyline and the FDR park pergola are rendered in wild greenery, reminiscent of the kind that emerges from sidewalk cracks.  The two outdoor PHS  Flower Show themes: Habitat (2021) and Bloom (2022) are incorporated throughout the design through his illustrations of blooming aromatic native plants that offer an array of ecological services in our Mid-Atlantic region.  For all-ages appeal at the Family Frolic Day, a hand-drawn urban sidewalk chalk style informs the font and background coloring of the fan.


Get Involved:

We’re always looking for new SMELL FANs! Interested in collaboration? Send us a note at and  Visit to continue learning about the science of smell. 



Support for this project was provided by a 2022 Edelman College of Communication and Creative Arts STORI Grant (Support for Teaching, Outreach and Research Innovations) and a 2021 IMMaD Grant (Institute of Innovative Media, Materials & Design). 

We wish to express our appreciation for: Lori Marshal, Assistant Vice President,University Relations, for her feedback and support, Jim Greenwell, Art Technician for building our spinning smell wheel, 3D Modeling for Artists and Designers  Studio and Public Art and Social Practice Studio students, and the CCCA marketing team. 


SMELL FAN Field Research:


SMELL FAN Reading List:

Druse, Ken. 2019. The Scentual Garden: Exploring the World of Botanical Fragrance . New York, NY: Abrams. [Rowan Libraries e-book]

Eierman, Kim. 2020. The Victory Pollinator Garden: Win the War on Pollinator Decline with Ecological Gardening. Beverly, MA: Quarry Books Inc. 

Epstein, Catherine Haley. 2019. Nose Dive: A Book For the Curious Seeking Potential Through Their Noses.  Pacific Northwest: Mindmarrow. 

Haskell, David George. 2021. Thirteen Ways to Smell a Tree: Getting to Know Trees Through the Language of Scent. London, UK: Hachette.

Kimmer, Robin Wall. 2015. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed.

Tallamy, Doug. 2020.  Nature's Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard. Portland, OR: Timber Press Inc. 

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 

Whittaker, Danielle. 2022. The Secret Perfume of Birds: Uncovering the Science of Avian Scent. Baltimore, MD: Hopkins Press.