Chemistry Stinks!

The Foundation Centre’s Simon Rees has been working alongside Jacob Cox, a chemist based in Virginia USA and Rebecca Edwards, a Durham chemistry Ph.D. student. They are currently involved in a one month project which they are calling “Chemistry Stinks”.

The aim of the project is to prepare a package that will enable and encourage teachers to utilise the sense of smell more in the chemical laboratory. They hope that this will add another element to the learning experience and help to make labs more engaging, enjoyable and memorable. Since they will be working with easily recognisable smells, “Chemistry Stinks” may also help link chemicals use in the labs to the chemicals of everyday life.


By the end of this month they aim to have produced a package with the following components:

1.       A series of chemicals with dilution such that they can be smelt safely
2.       A profile on the different chemicals including their everyday uses and any link to the               AS/A2 curriculum (based on uses or functionality)
3.       A series of experiments using these chemicals/ utilising the sense of smell                               (including worksheets and draft safety assessments)
4.       A reference to other related resources developed by the Royal Society of Chemistry

The chemicals they have in mind are:

1.       Cinnamaldehyde (cinnamon)
2.       Vanillin (vanilla)
3.       Menthol
4.       R-(-)-Carvone (spearmint)
5.       S-(+)-Carvone (caraway)
6.       R-(+)-Limonene (orange)
7.       S-(-)-Limonene (pine-like)
8.       Ammonium sulphide (rotten eggs)
9.       Ammonium thioglycolate (hair perm)
10.    Butyric acid (rotten dairy)
11.    Indole (faeces-like at high concentrations, blossom-like at low concentrations)

Simon, Jacob and Rebecca have been testing out olfactory titrations using garlic and onion powder which has been a pleasant experience, and they have found an effective clock reaction using cinnamaldehyde. Sadly they have also had some unsuccessful experiments; namely recrystallisation of crude menthol and bromination of vanillin, but there is still time.

Do you have a favourite smell? Are there any experiments that you could suggest using with a smelly chemical? We’d like to hear your suggestions and thoughts on this project!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s