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How To Capture A Scent, an easy science experiment

If you’ve ever wanted to capture your favorite smell—a rose, cinnamon, a pine tree, a campfire—this easy experiment might be able to help. From Science Friday: Aha! Here’s how to capture a scent. With the help of some heat, you can separate and collect some vaporized scent molecules in a jar. Here’s the science:

All of those smells are made of molecules! Molecules are groups of two or more atoms bonded together. All of the matter on our planet is made of atoms, and most of those atoms are bound up with other atoms into molecules. While some molecules are odorless (like water, or H2O; baking soda, or NaHCO3; and carbon monoxide, or CO), others are what give roses, pizza, and even people their unique odors…

When you put your nice-smelling material in the pot of water and turned up the burner, you began to heat up and vaporize the more volatile molecules. As the scent molecules vaporized, they mingled with water vapor molecules, which together rose up in the pot. Once those molecules came into contact with the cold pot lid, they condensed into liquid droplets, which fell into the mason jar. (The water helped you capture a scent in the mason jar by preventing the nice-smelling material from burning, and by extracting additional volatile scent molecules from the material, which rose up with the water vapor.)

Will this work on lavender? Lemon? Chocolate chip cookies? Popcorn? Freshly cut grass? Experiment and predict! Science Friday has an easy-to-follow lesson plan for this fun activity.

Next: Candle Chemistry, How to make an Amazing 9 Layer Density Tower, dissolving Skittles into rainbows, how to make fizzy bottle rockets, and more smart experiments.

Bonus: How many smells can you identify?

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