Picture it…


Coming Up Smelling of Roses

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First busy workshop with 50 participants for Gloucestershire Federation

First busy workshop with 50 participants for Gloucestershire Federation.

The last couple of weeks have seen a new activity for the Picture It… Chemistry team: hands-on workshops in the chemistry of scents, building on one of our first blog posts on Roses. We have teamed up with the National Federation of Womens’ Institutes (NFWI) to bring these workshops to their members. Here are some photos and impressions from the first three workshops, held for the Gloucestershire, Lancashire and Cumbria-Westmorland Federations.

Just over a year ago, co-founder and co-chief-editor of Picture It, Natalie Fey, saw an article in the NFWI members’ magazine, WI Life, indicating plans for a greater focus on science in new WI activities, prompting her to get in touch and offer a series of activities based on this blog. The first series of workshops, “Coming up Smelling of Roses” have since been developed by Natalie, with a lot of help and support from our second co-founder and co-chief editor, Jenny Slaughter, as well as undergraduate summer student Lexy Miles-Hobbs. These involve the extraction of scents from herbs and flowers, as well as an exploration of the effects of chirality on scent and an opportunity to blend perfumes from plant extracts and essential oils.


Busy extracting scents from plants in Gloucestershire.

The first workshop took place on 28th August 2014 in Churchdown, Gloucestershire, and was attended by 50 participants from the Gloucestershire Federation. Despite delays caused by the bottom falling out of a box of safety specs (not kidding), terrible Bristol traffic and roadworks along the M5, Natalie arrived in Churchdown with just enough time to set up for the first workshop, while local organisers Diana and Sue set up tables and projectors.

Testing the solubility of vanillin in oil, water and Vodka.

Testing the solubility of vanillin in oil, water and Vodka.

After an introduction to molecular structures and the crucial safety briefing, participants were soon let loose on some real chemistry, testing the solubility of vanillin in water, oil and vodka, as well as extracting scents from various herbs and flower.

Comparing geometrical isomers in Gloucstershire.

Comparing geometrical isomers in Gloucestershire.

After cleaning everything up and enjoying a well-deserved tea break, part 2 saw the introduction of isomerism (both cis/trans and centro-chirality) with the help of both Lego and molecular models, followed by an opportunity to smell the different isomers of limonene, carvone and cis-rose oxide. The evening finished with practical perfume blending, using both the extracts prepared earlier and a broad and varied range of essential oils, with the most memorable recipe a musty shed scent for men, designed to allow fellow human beings to detect their arrival with ample advance warning. Participants were keen to decorate our “Feedback Labcoat” with their comments at the end and everybody seemed to have a good time. Washing up could wait until the next day…

Some of the comments on our feedback labcoat from the Gloucestershire Federation

Some of the comments on our feedback labcoat from the Gloucestershire Federation.

The second and third workshops took place a week later and required a little more travel – while Churchdown is just over an hours’ drive from Bristol, Leyland, the venue for a day-time workshop with the Lancashire Federation, required more than three hours of travel, mitigated only slightly by taking Natalie past her alma mater, Keele University, where she lived and studied for almost 8 years.

All set up for Part 1 in Lancashire (photo by Pam Coates).

All set up for Part 1 in Lancashire.

Equipped with a substantial packed lunch from her B&B’s landlady, Natalie met local organiser Pam in the morning of 4th September, following her to the Lancashire WI office in Leyland. Thanks to practicing in Gloucestershire, set-up was quick and members soon arrived, this time accommodating 25 participants.

All ready to go and kitted up in Lancashire.

All ready to go and kitted up in Lancashire.

This workshop followed the same format and progressed well, gathering further positive feedback on our labcoat.

Here is what local organiser Pam Coates wrote about the event:

“Lancashire Federation enjoyed  an educational day with a difference. Dr Natalie Fey presented a well-prepared,  fun workshop which the ladies were eager to get ‘stuck into to’. There was much excitement as they ground up leaves and flowers and tested out other essences. At the same time they were very attentive during the teaching sessions, learning a little of molecular theory, then couldn’t believe their luck when they were able to ‘play’ with Lego to make 3D structures.
The effect of chirality on scent was new to us all in scientific terms and, as ladies made up their own  perfumes, the room did truly ‘smell of roses’. Many thanks to National for subsidising this course, please can we have more to fulfil one of the aims of the WI, which is education? Thank you, Natalie and the team.”

Unfortunately, with a second workshop planned for the following day, this time the washing up could not wait and caused the first casualty – a pestle dropped and broke, typically only after it had been cleaned. Undeterred, Natalie set off again, driving a further hour north to the Lake District, arriving after a short detour (planned!) in Kendal for dinner and an overnight stay.

Perfume blending in Lancashire.

Perfume blending in Lancashire.

In the morning, local organiser Brenda was on hand to direct Natalie through the maze of Kendal’s one-way-system to the Cumbria and Westmorland Federation‘s office in the (very swish) Masonic Hall, second venue for the week. Set-up was so quick that there was actual waiting-around for the 41 participants to arrive.

Just checking personal protective equipment with Cumbria-Westmorland Federation.

Just checking personal protective equipment with Cumbria-Westmorland Federation.

Again, the format was similar to previous workshops, with a break for a very fine home-cooked lunch, organised and provided by the Federation’s catering committee. Once visiting dog Star had been made comfortable again in the WI’s office, well away from the smells, and all participants were seated, the second part again caused much entertainment and a little bit of education, gathering further positive feedback.

Working out isomers with Lego in Cumbria-Westmorland.

Working out isomers in Cumbria-Westmorland.

The local organising team kindly stayed around while test tubes, mortars, pestles, beakers and conical flasks were washed up and Natalie’s car loaded up yet again.* Just another 4 hours of driving to go… Natalie eventually arrived home in the evening of the same day.

Cis and trans isomers captured in feedback.

Cis and trans isomers captured in feedback.

More workshops will take place in the next few weeks, seeing Natalie visit Wiltshire and West Kent, as well as the Avon Federation (local to the University of Bristol), hopefully with the rest of the team in tow. Building on the collaboration with the NFWI, the workshops have also attracted further support from the RSC Small Outreach fund after a successful application by Jenny. This success will allow the team to open up activities to additional federations, including Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Dorset and Derbyshire, as well as school groups and gardening clubs.

More feedback...

More feedback…


Contributors: Natalie Fey (presenter, text), Sue, Pam and Doris (who took the photos), local organisers Diana, Sue, Pam, Brenda, Celia & many others of the Cumbria-Westmorland Federation, Helen Neal (NFWI liaison), Jenny Slaughter (editing).


*Thank you again for the federation goodies!

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