Odor of Violets Chemistry Demonstration

Flower Shop Chemistry Magic Trick

You can simulate the odor of violets using a chemical reaction.
You can simulate the odor of violets using a chemical reaction. Ursula Alter / Getty Images

In this chemistry magic trick, you'll produce the odor of violets by mixing two common chemicals. This demonstration is also known as the flower shop magic trick.

Odor of Violets - Materials

Sodium carbonate and castor oil are sold at many stores. Sodium carbonate is used in cooking and as a water softener. Castor oil usually is sold in the pharmacy section.

  • sodium carbonate [buy online]
  • castor oil [buy online]

    Perform the Trick

    This is a terrific chemistry demonstration because the materials are common and inexpensive and it's extremely quick and easy to perform:

    1. In a dry test tube or small beaker, add a scoop of sodium carbonate and 3 drops of castor oil.

       

    2. Heat the container in a burner flame or on a hot plate until a cloud of white vapor rises from the chemicals.

       

    3. Walk around the room with the glassware to allow the fragrance to dissipate. The odor of violets is evident.

    How It Works

    When sodium carbonate and castor oil are heated together, one of the products is ionone. Although it is a simple demonstration, this is a fairly complicated reaction, in which citral and acetone with calcium oxide catalyze an aldol condensation followed by a rearrangement reaction. A mixture of alpha and beta ionone is responsible for the characteristic odor of violets. Beta ionone is a component of the fragrance responsible for the scent of roses, too.

    Natural or synthetic ionone is used in many perfumes and flavorings. In flowers, ionones derive from the degradation of carotenoids, which are pigment molecules.

    An interesting property of violets is that they are responsible for another type of chemical magic. Violets temporarily steal your sense of smell!

    Initially, ionone binds to scent receptors and stimulates them, so you smell the odor of violets. Then, for a few moments, the receptors are unable to receive further stimulus. You lose awareness of the fragrance, only to regain it when it registers as a new smell. Whether you like the scent of violets or not, it's a scent that can't become overpowering or fade with time.

    Learn More

    More Science Magic Tricks
    Make Rose Water
    Design Your Own Perfume

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    Your Citation
    Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Odor of Violets Chemistry Demonstration." ThoughtCo, Apr. 26, 2017, thoughtco.com/odor-of-violets-chemistry-demonstration-606063. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2017, April 26). Odor of Violets Chemistry Demonstration. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/odor-of-violets-chemistry-demonstration-606063 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Odor of Violets Chemistry Demonstration." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/odor-of-violets-chemistry-demonstration-606063 (accessed November 19, 2017).