Wasserman began creating custom aromas—from forest fire to popcorn to skunk—for a range of clients including Disney and the Smithsonian Institution. Today she's up to her nose in orders for the odors she concocts in her two-room olfactory factory outside L.A. Among her recent requests: spent rocket fuel (for a South African theme park), erupting volcano (an Italian museum) and woolly mammoth (a Boston science center). "I can't help thinking," Wasserman muses, "what Apocalypse Now would have been like if you really could smell the napalm in the morning."
Even Wasserman is surprised by the professional turn her life has taken. As a child in Massapequa Park, N.Y., she was plagued by allergies. "Even the thought of a lawn being mowed gives me a reaction," jokes Wasserman, who is single and previously worked as a junior high history teacher and then as a stockbroker. With $400,000 in annual sales, she uses a mix of chemistry and trial-and-error to create her aromas, which she infuses into corn-kernel-sized resin pellets. "In the end," says Anne Powers, an exhibit manager, "she always gets it right."
Sometimes too right. Last year the Smithsonian ordered up eau de freshly cut grass for an exhibit on the brain. Wasserman was so successful she started sneezing. "Smell," she says, "is a very powerful thing."
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