Smelly Balloons

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In this activity, learners sniff out scents hidden in balloons! After investigating, learners discover we sometimes can use another sense (smell) to detect things too small to see. The activity makes connections to the field of nanotechnology through the tiny size of scent molecules, measured in nanometers, or one-billionth of a meter. Step-by-step instructions are included with photos along with safety recommendations. Activity guide includes a "What's going on?" explanation and quick connections to atoms, molecules, and nano-sized sensors.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 4 - adult

Resource Type:


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Round balloons in a variety of different colors
  • Several different scented extracts (such as vanilla)
  • Medicine dropper (optional)
  • Hand pump for inflating balloons (optional)
  • Matching game activity sheet (optional)
  • Crayons or markers (optional)


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Nanotechnology
  • Life Sciences
    • Human Body
      • The Brain and Nervous System
    • Human Senses and Perception
      • Smell
  • Physical Sciences
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Atomic Structure


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • smell

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Sciencenter

Source Collection

  • NISE Network


  • , Sciencenter, 2012

Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation