The Scent of a Chemistry Flashback

Marbling art project

You’ve heard the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” How many words for a smell? A single whiff of a familiar scent can whisk me back into the past. Wash my hands with Dove soap—I find myself standing in my grandmother’s house. Walk by someone wearing Eternity cologne—I’m back in high school with an old boyfriend. Spray out a foamy mound of Barbasol shaving cream—I’m standing at an exhibit booth talking about the Journal of Chemical Education (JCE). That was a fragrant flashback moment I had last month. As I followed my nose to the past, it led me to a solution for the present.

Chemistry Time Travel

During my time with JCE, if you saw me at an exhibit booth at NSTA, ChemEd, or the like, there was a good chance I had a can of Barbasol in my hand. We typically shared the hands-on JCE Classroom Activity #89 “Colorful Lather Printing” to spark conversations with attendees about the useful chemistry resources they would find in the Journal. A squirt of shaving cream, a few drops of food coloring swirled with a toothpick, and you had a beautifully marbled piece of paper in less than a minute, plus an explanation of how it could be used in the classroom to teach solubility. It was fun, fast, required few materials, and had a ready-to-use student activity we could send home with teachers. A multi-day conference would be a “Marbling Marathon.”

marbling table    

An Artistic Chemistry Solution

Instead of standing at an exhibit booth, I was at a table with K–4 students leading an art class. My church opened an elementary school this fall. For the first week of school last month, they needed a project idea for signs to label cubbies with each student’s name. The smell of Barbasol reminded me of a perfect solution. I appreciated the chance to pull out an older JCE activity to adapt to this situation. We warmed up with some small practice sheets, then moved on to half sheets of paper. (My long, wide quilting ruler from home was a great scraping tool for these larger sheets.) Then, names layered over the top and finally laminated. Students and teachers can look at (although probably not smell!) them throughout the school year and think back to the science and art we shared that afternoon.

Are there any scents that take you back to a time in chemistry?