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Odors Aloft

Source Institutions

    Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

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Odors Aloft

Learners smell balloons filled with different scents to guess what's inside. From this, they infer the presence and motion of scented molecules. This is a good introduction to atoms and molecules, as well as an opportunity to talk about diffusion, states of matter, chemoreceptors and the sense of smell. For latex-sensitive learners, this activity also works with non-latex gloves. Extensions include measuring diffusion rates, and extracting essential oils from plant parts. Educator-led demonstrations include having learners act as molecules in a model of a solid, liquid, and gas, and then diffusing through a model membrane as a gas. Part of the "No Hassle Messy Science with a Wow" activity guide by OMSI, where all activities use only household materials.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

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

Age Range:
Ages 4 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan

English, Spanish

Materials List (per group of students)

  • 5-10 balloons (1 per scent used)
  • 1 permanent marker
  • 5-10 straws, pipettes, or eyedroppers
  • 1-2 teaspoons each of selection of extracts, for example: anise, almond, vanilla, coffee, lemon, chocolate, orange, banana, coconut
  • 1-2 teaspoons each of selection of spices, for example: cinnamon, curry, cloves, garlic, chili
  • 1-2 teaspoons each of other strong smelling products, for example: Vicks Vapo-Rub, baby powder, soap, perfume, lotion


  • Life Sciences
    • Human Senses and Perception
      • Smell
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
    • States of Matter
      • Solids
      • Liquids
      • Gases
      • Changes of Phase


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • smell

Learning styles supported:

  • Links STEM to other topics of interest such as arts and humanities
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Foreign language versions of this resource:

Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Oregon Museum of Science and Industry


  • All Rights Reserved, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, ©2007

Funding Sources:

  • National Science Foundation
  • Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation


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