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A Table of Smells, Stinks, And Aromas

From Monash University comes this colorful (and doubtless extremely useful) chart of Smells of Chemistry. See if you agree with its assessments – I think it’s broadly correct, but I might be a bit more descriptive in some of the boxes. Although “Unique and Unpleasant” does sum up some of them pretty well, and I do like the boxes marked “Old People”, “Seaweed”, and “Dead Animals”.

22 comments on “A Table of Smells, Stinks, And Aromas”

  1. cirby says:

    When a chemist refers to an odor as “unique and unpleasant,” the layman should already be passing through the door and starting their sprint.

  2. Chemjobber says:

    The author is James Kennedy; I’ve linked his blog in my handle. I can’t tell how up to date his resume is, but I think he’s looking for a position as a chemistry teacher in Australia.

  3. luysii says:

    As an undergraduate, i was tasked with taking infrared spectra of a sequence of mercaptans (thiols). In particular we were looking for a change in the frequency of the S – H bond, as a marker of hydrogen bonding of the thiol to the pi cloud of an aromatic n – CH2 groups away.
    When I walked into my eating club after a session of this, people would look at their shoes.

  4. Steve says:

    As a non-chemist, do the skulls mean you die, or you wish you were dead?

  5. John Wayne says:

    @4 Yes.

  6. Hap says:

    I wouldn’t have thought that the medium- and long-chain nitriles were that toxic.

  7. AVS-600 says:

    @6: Yeah, I wouldn’t think that they’re more toxic than “methanenitrile”, which he lists as smelling like almonds.

  8. MB says:

    Nothing is better than a good whiff of putrescine in the morning.

  9. matt says:

    “Attracts sperm”?
    I suppose 90% of the rest of the chart falls under “repels eggs.”

  10. Jacob says:

    @11 matt: the substance listed as “attracting sperm” has the common name Bourgeonal and is used in making perfumes. It is also an attractant for spermatozoa, in that the cells will move toward increasing concentrations of the substance.

  11. hn says:

    Someone needs to make a Scratch and Sniff version.

  12. anon electrochemist says:

    @6 Looking up the MSDS on those skull-and-crossbones nitriles reveals their acute oral toxicity is GHS class 3 or 4, meaning they are of medium or low toxicity. For reference, ether/THF are class 4, methyl iodide is class 2/3. Nothing I’d be scared of handling in the hood.
    Interestingly, propionitrile and butyronitrile are significantly more toxic than the longer chains, but are given less hazardous symbols.

  13. Nick K says:

    Would it be possible to have a smell which attracts human ova rather than sperm? I’ve always wanted one.

  14. BG says:

    If dogs could talk, they would get together and discuss the smells they’ve encountered, just as chemists like to do. Just an observation. (I am a chemist, and like to talk about foul or good smelling chemicals, so no offense intended).

  15. gippgig says:

    Isn’t 2-methyl -an-2-one impossible (pentavalent C required)?

  16. sepisp says:

    2-methylpropanal or isobutyraldehyde doesn’t smell like wet cereal. There was a synthesis reactor making it in an earlier job, and the whole room smelled like urine-soaked hay.
    Also, quantitative methanethiol doesn’t smell like garlic. Instead, a better match would be pig manure.

  17. luysii says:

    #16 see #3 — Spot on — It’s why people looked at their shoes when I entered a room. I did the whole series, methyl, ethyl, propyl, butyl, fartyl, . . . thiol.

  18. anony-mous says:

    @17
    I too had the dubious pleasure of making many, many 5′-deoxy-5′-alkyl (aryl and alkaryl)-thio-ribofuranose derivatives. Needless to say, I wasn’t a popular guy during that time ! I, for one, didn’t find the fartyl derivative very differentiated in an olfactory sense !

  19. CMJ says:

    So is “unique & unpleasant” anything like the much-loved “characteristic”? ;^)
    (Happy New Year, everyone.)

  20. @6 @7 @12: thanks for pointing that out. This is useful feedback!
    @15: yes, you’re right. That column header should read “methyl -an-2-one” and the methyl groups are on different carbons for each compound. I’ll either label the positions of these methyl groups in the cells (and not in the header) or simply delete the column. As you correctly pointed out, none of the methyl groups are in the 2-position! Thanks 🙂
    @16: wet cereal or urine-soaked hay? Isn’t that the same thing?

  21. a. nonymaus says:

    For a real olfactory treat, try some alkynes… (or isonitriles if you’re masochistic)

  22. r` says:

    Clearly the table is incorrect for several of the four carbon derived scents. Butanol does not smell anything like windex, bananas, or any combination of the two. Try dog feces.

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