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Our ability to identify natural and synthetic scents Featured science projectScience project video


This science fair project was conducted to determine if a person can differentiate between a natural scent and a synthetic scent. The experiment was done with the use of various scents, i.e. rose, banana, orange, lemon, lavender, apple, cinnamon, jasmine, vanilla and strawberry scents


Most of the participants will not be able to differentiate between natural and synthetic scents.

Scientific Terms

Olfaction, sensory cells, nasal cavity, chemical synthesis


Natural and synthetic scents

Our sense of smell is also known as olfaction. Olfaction refers to the ability of organisms to detect chemicals in the air that may be pleasant, e.g. odors from flowers, fruits or food, or unpleasant, e.g. odors from the smell of a decomposing  organic matter or garbage. Odors enter our nostrils and the sensory cells in the nasal cavity detect them. Signals regarding the odor will then be transmitted to the brain. The brain will then recognize or retain memory of that smell.

People usually use perfumes to hide an odor and to create a more pleasant aroma around them. Perfume is made from  oils that are extracted from plants or animals. However, to create these natural scents, large quantities of plants or animal matter are required just to obtain a small amount of oil. This puts a constraint on production capacity and it also increases the cost of the perfume. Obtaining a level of consistency in the scent is also difficult because the scent of the extract differs by the season and location.

Artificial perfumes are synthetic scents that are manufactured by chemical synthesis. They are normally cheaper and their quality and consistency can be more easily controlled. The production of synthetic perfume is also more environmentally friendly because animals such as the musk deers or plants like the sandalwood tree do not have to be harmed or destroyed, in order to extract these  scents.

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Complexity level:
Project cost ($):
Time required:
1 hour to prepare, 1 hour for observation
Material availability:
Easily found
Safety concerns:

Basic safety requirements