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Akron Global Polymer Academy Lesson Plans

Smelly Synthesis

Grades: 7-12 Physical Science, 11-12 Chemistry
Author: Emily Wagner
Source: This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. EEC-1161732. Lab section adapted from Eastern Iowa Community College.


Students will view the nylon rope demonstration to be introduced to polymer synthesis. They will then perform an inquiry investigation of organic synthesis by mixing various carboxylic acids with alcohols to create esters. Depending on the mixture between the acids and alcohols, different smells will be produced. The class will then come together and discuss the purpose of the lab and the results obtained.


What should students know as a result of this lesson?

What should the students be able to do as a result of this lesson?




Alcohol (from Flinn)

Demonstration Synthesis of Nylon



Before the lesson on the synthesis of esters and application to polymers, students will be given a pretest on their knowledge of polymers and organic synthesis. (Pre Test 1)

Day 1: Questioning for prior knowledge:

  1. What are polymers?
  2. What is a synthesis reaction?
  3. What does the general synthesis mechanism look like?

Show students the nylon rope demonstration to get them engaged in synthesis reactions and polymers.

Assessment: Through discussing the questions with students determine that they have a basic understanding of polymers and general synthesis before beginning the ester lab.


Day 2: Students will conduct the ester inquiry lab with their lab partners. They will be given some guidance with mixing solutions (A-C/carboxylic acid) with (1-4/alcohols) of various combinations. They will then record all of their observations. (Worksheet 1)

Assessment: Check for participation of each lab group. Each member of the group should have a role and be an active participant. Observation tables must be constructed in their lab book.


Day 2: Discussion-As a whole class, each group will share the information/observations they gathered. Then as a class, we will write the mechanism of synthesis.

Assessment: Final Lab Report, Ester Mechanism


Day 2/3: Explanation showing organic synthesis and polyester.

Extension to show the recycled plastic bottles and how they make polyester.

Assessment: Students should be able to apply what they have learned about synthesis to other types of polymers found in everyday life. Student discussion along with an exit slip as an extension.

Day 4: Students will synthesize a linear or cross-linked polyester

Assessment: Lab Report on polyester


Students will need to know general synthesis, lab safety, chemical elements and how to write chemical equations.

Best Teaching Practices

Alignment with Standards

NGSS Standards:

Common Core Standards:

Ohio Standards:

Content Knowledge

It is assumed that the average high school or middle school student knows nothing about polymers. Students should already be familiar with the following topics:

Students will expand their current knowledge of organic chemistry and be able to write and perform synthesis reactions.


Students will wear gloves and goggles in the lab

Concentrated sulfuric acid will be dealt with in the hood under the teacher's observation.


Nylon as shown in the demonstration is used in rope, clothing, etc.

Many esters have the characteristic property of a pleasant odor. As such, they are used as artificial flavors and perfumes.

Extension: The end of the lesson is then connected with how polyester fabrics are made from recycled plastics.


Students will be assessed using a formal lab report along with an exit slip.

Other Considerations

Grouping Suggestions: Extension - Lab - Students will be grouped with their lab partners.

Pacing/Suggested Time: This lesson will be a three-day lab. Day 1: Organic Chemistry Notes/Nylon Rope Demonstration; Day 2: Ester Lab Synthesis Inquiry Lab; Day 3: Wrap-Up/Explanation/Extension.

Printable PDF Worksheets

Polymer/Organic Pre Test

Lab Guided Direction - Worksheet 1

Polymer/Organic Post Test