Catch a whiff of it?

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Updated on Feb 08, 2012

Grade Level: 8th; Type: Chemistry

To determine how we can capture a scent.

  • What is a perfume?
  • How are perfumes made?
  • What is organic chemistry and how does it differ from inorganic chemistry?
  • What is an ester? What is an aldehyde/
  • What is acetone?
  • What is ethanol?
  • How do they make perfume from coal?

This is a brief introduction into the world of organic chemistry. The student discovers via experimentation that making a perfume involves a three step process such as step one, having a source of the scent. The sources are esters, aldehydes or aromatic compounds that occur naturally in fruits, in flowers, in herbs in spices. Step 2 having a solvent which is used to dissolve all of the fragrance but one that evaporates slowly so that the scent lasts and is given off over a period of time and last, in industry, they add a filler or what they call a stabilizer so that the perfume lasts . Sometimes the solvent also serves as the stabilizer. There are many other solvents that are used such as ethanol. Ethanol works well but it is a poison! Do not drink it!

This science fair experiment also serves to acquaint students with the essential processes of sciencing such as the importance of the use of a control, of identifying dependent and independent variables, of data collection, of pictorial and or graphic presentation of data and of being able to make better judgments as to the validity and reliability of their findings.They take on the role of scientists and in the process they learn to act as one.

  • Labels
  • Pen
  • 4 small jars with lids
  • Whole cloves petals from flowers which have a distinct scent
  • Water
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Cameras (if you wish to take pictures of the process)

  1. Gather all of the materials you will require for this project which include labels, pen, 4 small jars with lids, 10 whole cloves, and petals from a flower that has a distinct odor, water and rubbing alcohol.
  2. Caution: Rubbing alcohol is a poison. Keep it away from your mouth.
  3. Copy the Data Chart so that you can readily record your observations.
  4. On two labels, write water and on the other two labels, write, rubbing alcohol. Attach the labels to each of the 4 jars.
  5. Reproduce the data chart provided above so that you may readily record your observations.
  6. Place 5 whole cloves in each of two jars.
  7. Fill one jar half full of water
  8. Fill the other jar half full with rubbing alcohol.
  9. Close the jars and screw on the lids tightly.
  10. Take the flower petals; divide them equally into two jars. Fill one half full with water and the other half full with rubbing alcohol. Again, close jars and screw lids on tightly.
  11. Store all the jars at room temperature.
  12. At the end of this first week, put a few drops of the liquid from each of the water jars on your left wrist and the same number of drops of the liquid from the alcohol solutions on your right wrists. Allow the liquids to evaporate and then smell each wrist.
  13. Record your observations.
  14. Replace the lids on both jars and return for storage for a second week.
  15. At the close of the second week, repeat step 11.
  16. Record your observations. Was the scent from each of the jars still as strong? Any differences? How do you account for your results?
  17. Analyze your data. What are your conclusions? Was water equally effective as a solvent as rubbing alcohol? How effective were these solvents with the flower petals?
  18. Write up your research. Make certain to include your bibliography, namely the sources you used to answer the research questions. You may wish to include comments on your reactions to this project as well as what you would do differently if you were to repeat this experiment.

Terms/Concepts: Perfume; Scent; Organic; Chemistry; Ester; Aldehydes; Acetone; Ethanol


  • Bronowski, J. Barry, G., Fisher., Huxley, J. Doubleday Pictorial Library of Science , Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York, 1980

Dr. Muriel Gerhard (Ed.D.) is a retired educator with fifty seven years of experience in all aspects of public education. She has been a teacher, principal, administrator, college professor, researcher, grants writer, change agent and science editor. She is the author of several books on education used as college texts. These include the best selling Effective Teaching Strategies with the Behavioral Outcomes Approach and The Behavioral Outcomes Handbook for Teachers and Administrators. Presently she is a consultant in science education and curriculum development, a marriage and family therapist, a newspaper columnist and an author. Her latest book, recently published, is a memoir of sixty vignettes entitled âNow That I`m Dead, I Decided to Write this Bookâ.

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