Yesterday I noticed the smell of ethyl acetate leaking from the undergrads’ bench and advised them to use it in the hood. This started a big conversation about chemical odors.
I discovered that my olfaction is (somewhat) keener than average people since I was young, and while it’s been going slowly downhill since I started working with smelly chemicals more than 4 years ago, I’d say it’s still pretty decent. My colleague Tom always jokes about how bad his sense of smell is especially after he started working in the lab.
So returning to ethyl acetate, a commonly-used solvent in organic chemistry. My first contact with this chemical is probably from a bubble-blowing paste I used to play when I was like 5 years old. And in middle school science lab I synthesized it by Fischer esterification where students were directed to detect the presence of it by the characteristic smell. To me, ethyl acetate has a fruity smell (some friends of mine said it reminded them of durian) which can be detected in small concentrations in the air. It is not particularly unpleasant, but it gets strong and unbearable pretty easily. It can get to a point where I can even sense a vinegary odor from the amount of acetic acid from the hydrolysis of it on contact with atmospheric moisture! For this reason I always have words about people using ethyl acetate outside the fume hoods.