The Mysterious Smell Revealed


Students mixed chemicals to make compounds that smelled like fresh fruit.

Melanie Langa

Students mixed chemicals to make compounds that smelled like fresh fruit.

Listen to Liz explain what caused the smell in the hallway.

Liz Stern

A mysterious smell has filled the third floor hallway for two days. Coming from Liz Stern’s science room in the corner of the building, it has taken over the entire floor.

Students noticed the strange smell yesterday but didn’t know where it came from.  Some even complained that it was remindful of vomit or sweaty feet.

In reality the odor was the result of a science experiment performed by FOS III students. The goal of the experiment was to produce esters, a type of organic compound. Once the right ingredients were heated, the esters formed compounds that mimicked the smells of real fruit. If the experiment is performed correctly in the right combinations, the result is a liquid that smells like anything from raspberry to rum.

“You have sensory cells in your brain that they’ll [ester cells] attach to and when they attach to those particular sensory cells it is because of the shape that they have. So these have the same sorts of shapes as the chemicals that would be released lets say from a ripe raspberry,” said Stern.

Students chose among several flavors and added an alcohol liquid to an acid to create the different options. It was one of these ingredients that caused the unusual smell in the hallway.

“What it is is one particular chemical and it’s an acid, this one’s a carboxylic acid, and it’s called butyric acid or butanoic acid and that acid is the same acid that is produced when you sweat on your feet and bacteria eat that sweat and make your feet smell,” said Stern.

Although this ingredient was particularly pungent the rest of the lab was much sweeter. CHS junior Emma Hughes attempted to make the apple scent but it didn’t work as well as she would have hoped.

“I was expecting it to smell like artificial candy apple but I didn’t really smell like that. It smelled like chemicals… but I guess there was a little bit of apple in there,” she said.

Fortunately for the rest of the school the experiment is complete and the smells, good and bad, won’t return until next year.