Nasal Spectroscopy

Linking chemical functionality to smell.
Useful information
Kit List: 

N/A (Retired)


NB: This experiment is included as an historical reference, and is unlikely to be resurrected in the form described here due to it's excessive malodorous substance content.

Different functional groups have different characteristic smells, e.g. esters smell sweet and fruity, amines smell of rotting meat. We have a range of smelly chemicals and try to get the kids to group them according to smell and hence functional group. We also have models of all the chemicals so try to get the kids to group these according to shape (of functional group) and then make the connection between shape and smell.

1-octanol ?
1-hexanol ?
1-butanol ?
Ethanol ?
Carboxylic acids
Hexanoic acid Goats
Butyric acid Vomit/Sweat/Rancid butter
Acetic acid Vinegar
Octyl acetate Oranges
i-amyl butyrate Pears
n-amyl acetate Bananas
Methyl butyrate Pineapple
1,5-diaminopentate, a.k.a. cadaverine Human corpses/urine
1,4-diaminobutane, a.k.a putrescine Rotting meat
1-propanethiol Onions
Risk Assessment
Risk Assessment: 

Last updated: 25/02/05 @ 01:40 GMT

Nasal Spectrometry Risk Assessment and COSHH


Public smell a range of volatile, smelly chemicals. Try to group chemicals by smell. Look at models and group by shape. Make connection between shape and smell.


1. Public contact with chemicals
2. Bottle containing chemical could break
3. Demonstrator contact with chemicals when preparing experiment
4. Small children could swallow parts of models
5. Storage and transport of chemicals

COSHH: risks associated with each chemical used

Ethanol - highly flammable
1-Butanol - flammable; harmful if swallowed; irritating to respiratory system and skin; risk of serious damage to eyes; vapours may cause drowsiness and dizziness
1-Hexanol - harmful if swallowed
1-Octanol - none
Acetic acid - flammable; causes severe burns
n-Butyric acid - causes burns
Hexanoic acid - causes burns
Octyl acetate - none
i-Amyl butyrate - none
Methyl butyrate - harmful by inhalation; irritating to eyes, skin and respiratory system
n-Amyl acetate - flammable
1,4-Diaminobutane - highly flammable; harmful in contact with skin and if swallowed; causes burns
1,5-Diaminopentane - harmful if swallowed; irritating to eyes and skin
1-Propanethiol - highly flammable; harmful if swallowed; irritating to eyes, respiratory system and skin

Please also see Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for more information about chemicals used


1. Only very small amount (one drop) of chemical used

Permeable membrane lid on bottle ensures only very small amount of chemical released

Lids taped on to bottles so that they cannot easily be removed

Bottles are distinctive and look like they come from a laboratory, so noticeably should not be carried off by child

Bottles clearly labelled with orange hazard labels (flammable, harmful, corrosive) and numbered so that demonstrator is immediately aware if one is missing

Demonstrator keeps control of all bottles at all time: Do not allow any of them out of your sight, do not allow public to remove lids

If necessary (e.g. particularly busy event) bottles attached to table (or other heavy difficult to move oject) via string so that they cannot be physically removed

Experiment carried out in well ventillated area

2. Chemicals contained in sturdy glass bottles which should not break when
dropped etc

3. When preparing experiment (pipetting chemicals into bottles) wear gloves
and eye protection and perform in very well ventilated area, ideally fume
hood, but otherwise outside. Pipettes and contaminated gloves should be
left in well ventilated area until smell has subsided and then disposed of

4. Models not to be given to children under age of 7 because of small parts
which represent choking hazard

5. Chemicals stored and transported in locked metal box.


If bottle breaks: evacuate area if neccessary because of smell, clear up broken glass and remove to well ventilated area e.g. outside until smell has subsided then dispose of appropriately.

In case of chemical contact with eyes, rinse immediately with eye wash if trained and confident to do so. Call first aider and seek medical advice.

In case of accident or if you feel unwell seek medical advice immediately.

If chemical swallowed seek medical advice immediately and show container/label.