Heaven Scent

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Author: Judee Shipman

Grade Level: 6th - 8th; Type: Chemistry


Test people's ability to distinguish between natural and artificial aromatherapy oils.

The goals of this project are:

  1. To explore the field of aromatherapy.
  2. To devise a valid experimental test of aromatherapy products.

Research Questions:

  • What essential oils are currently available?
  • Can people distinguish between natural and synthetic oils?
  • If so, which do they prefer?

Aromatherapy is a form of Alternative Medicine that uses essential oils for purposes such as mood management, mental clarity and stress reduction. It's reasonable to suppose that natural oils are preferable to synthetic preparations. However, most evidence supporting the effectiveness of aromatherapy is anecdotal at best. In this project you will test volunteers for fragrance recognition.


  • Computer with Internet access
  • Color printer
  • Digital camera
  • Typical office/hobby/hardware/craft supplies (paper, poster board, glue, etc.).
  • Six Aromatherapy oils – Three different fragrances, two versions of each, one natural and one synthetic.

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Read overview of relevant topics (see bibliography below)
  2. Address all of the terms and research questions mentioned here.
  3. Search and print out interesting images relevant to your topic.
  4. Take photographs throughout the course of the experiment.
  5. Select a fragrance and prepare a natural and a synthetic sample. Ideally, the experimenter should NOT know which sample is which, and of course neither should the volunteers.
  6.  Ask volunteers to smell each pair of samples, then ask which one they prefer.
  7. Have half of the volunteers smell the natural sample first. Have the other half smell the synthetic sample first.
  8. Repeat the above steps using several different fragrance pairs.
  9. Analyze your data.
  10. Write a detailed report.
  11. Include photos, samples and fragrance demonstrations in your science fair display. 

Terms/Concepts: Distillation; Double-blind experiment; Essential oils;  Esterification



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