Sniffing for a Billionth

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This is an activity (located on page 4 of the PDF under What's Nano? Activity) about size and scale. Learners use their sense of smell to detect parts per million in a serial dilution they mix in ten cups. In the process, they also create one billionth of something. The ultimate goal is for learners to get one step closer to wrapping their heads around the unimaginable: things that are either too immense or too minute to visually comprehend. Also relates to linked video, DragonflyTV Nano: What's Nano?

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

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


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 10 jars with lids (or clear cups)
  • tablespoon measuring spoon
  • strong scented liquids such as: imitation vanilla, mouthwash, peppermint extract and perfume
  • water
  • white paper
  • markers or pens


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Nanotechnology
  • Life Sciences
    • Human Senses and Perception
      • Smell
      • Vision
  • Mathematics
    • Measurement
      • Units of Measurement
      • Size and Scale
    • Number and Operations
      • Decimals
      • Fractions
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Solutions
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • smell
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


Source Collection

  • DragonflyTV


  • All rights reserved, Twin Cities Public Television, Inc., 2008

Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation, 741749