Dr Heinrich Mannebeck, the German pioneer of olfactometry, died at 86 on 29 Dec. 2022. As an agriculture scientist, he started in 1976 with a simple olfactometric device to take ambient indoor and outdoor samples of clearly noticeable concentrations. Then, 20 years later, he founded the company Ecoma with his children Dorothee and Dietmar Mannebeck. This company was initially based in Kiel, but 2 years later was moved to a detached house between farms and apple trees in the little town of Honigsee.
In the 1970s, the urban exodus began in Germany. Many moved to the countryside with their families. At first, they still found the smell of manure, animals and stables pleasant, but at some point, it became annoying. More and more complaints came across the desk of Dr Heinrich Mannebeck, a member of staff at the Institute of Agricultural Process Engineering at Christian Albrechts University in Kiel. But there were no methods of measuring odour at that time.
That is why in 1976, Heinrich developed a portable olfactometer. This picture on the left shows him working in the field.
He soon realised that there was a need for better instruments, and he started to develop different field olfactometers. I had the opportunity to visit the company and have a look at some of Heinrich's inventions in 2007. In a small glass cabinet, the company had on display different olfactometers developed in the 70s and 80s.
Those devices started with the acronym TO. Not many people know that TO stands forTragbares Olfaktometer (Portable Olfactometer in German). In the picture on the right, Heinrich is showing how an earlier TO model works.
Around 10 years later, in 1986, the standard VDI 3881 on Olfactometry - Odour threshold determination – Fundamentals was published in the still Federal Republic of Germany, and Heinrich was an active part of the discussion group. That German standard was one of the starting points of the nowadays EN 13725.
Heinrich not only worked in developing instruments, but he was also a firm believer that there was a need to tackle uncertainty in olfactometry. There is a paper produced by Heinrich and Dietmar in the proceedings of the 1st IWA Conference on Odour and VOCs in 2021 in Sydney. This paper presented the results of an interlaboratory comparison of dynamic olfactometry. That study was carried out in the year 2000 in central Europe, and it was one of the first interlaboratory comparisons with others developed in the Netherlands.
Heinrich Mannebeck died at 86 on 29 Dec. 2022. He was a pioneer. He tried to improve how odours are measured and deserves to be remembered by any odour manager. His legacy is enormous, but I will mention two: a company now named olfasense with great professionals and, above all, a better world.
Rest in peace.
We have contacted some friends to say a few words about him. It is our little tribute to Heinrich.
Here are some testimonials from some colleagues:
I had the pleasure to have worked with him for about 15 years in the groups of the VDI Commission on Air Pollution Prevention. His attitude was always friendly and cooperative.
He was a pragmatist eager to try out new things and carried along those who formerly thought that measurements with human beings as sensors belonged to magic rather than science. In the framework of the VDI groups, his ideas were supported and also modified by colleagues from various specialised fields. They followed different aspects of odour measurement, assessment and effects so that a whole package of guidelines could be developed.
I personally learned a lot from him and will often think of him as one of the long-time companions of my life.
Monika Paduch, Former Secretary to odour groups at VDI, Dusseldorf, Germany
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- Odournet Group splits into Olfasense and Odournet
- TO8s Almost a Pocket Olfactometer