How Good is Your Sense of Smell?

based on 76 ratings
Author: Nancy Rogers Bosse
Biology; Anatomy 

5th – 8th grades 

Difficulty of Project
Less than $5.00 
Safety Issues
Material Availability
Readily available 
Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project

One hour to complete the investigation and collect the data; one day to prepare the science fair display 


To determine if family members can recognize one another using only the sense of smell 

Materials and Equipment

  • Shirt recently taken off of each subject  
  • Blindfold
  • Chair 

Background Information

Just like fingerprints, each person has a unique smell. This unique smell is called an odortype. Every living thing gives off a scent. These scents are made up of molecules that evaporate and enter the air. The olfactory receptor neurons in the nose gather the scent molecules and send a message to the brain. Humans can recognize about 10,000 different smells. 

In this investigation, subjects try to identify the smell of family members by smelling clothes recently worn by family members. 

Terms, Concepts, and Questions to Start Background Research

olfactory receptor neurons: neurons in deep in the nasal cavity that receive and recognize smells 

odortype: a mammal’s unique smell   

Every person has a unique smell. Olfactory receptor neurons in the nose gather scents and send a message to the brain. 
Research Questions
  • Does each person have a unique smell?
  • Do people recognize the unique smell of family members?
  • Why do people have unique smells? 

Experimental Procedure

  1. Decide on the subjects to be used in this study. The subjects should be people from your own family, but also test people from another family.
  2. Gather a shirt from each of your subjects. The shirts should have been taken recently from the subjects’ bodies.
  3. Assign each shirt a letter identification. For example: Mom’s shirt = A, Dad’s shirt = B, little brother Max’s shirt = C, and so on.
  4. Blindfold a subject and have him or her sit in a chair. One at a time, hold each of the shirts under the subject’s nose. Do not allow the subject to touch the shirts. Ask the subject to guess who the shirt belongs to. Record the responses.
  5. Repeat Step 3 with each of the subjects.   


“How does the sense of smell work? What causes a smell?” from 

“Your Odor: Unique as Fingerprint” by Andrea Thompson at Live, 2008 

“How We Smell” by Corey Binns at Live, 2006 

“Your Sense of Smell” at


Add your own comment