For this experiment we filled baking pans half full with water, and then added 100 mL of vegetable oil to simulate an oil spill. We learned about the methods used to clean up real oil spills, and after forming a hypothesis, used materials to model those methods.
One method we learned about was a boom, or floatation foam, which is used to gather the oil into a contained area. We used rolled paper towels for our boom. In Bishnu’s hypothesis she thought the paper towels would work the best. They only absorbed about 1/8 of the oil, if that.
We also learned about a sorbant. The sorbant absorbs the oil like a sponge. Katie and Francesca both hypothesized that the sorbant would clean up the oil spill, so they tried cotton balls first. They seemed to absorb as much as the paper towels did.
We also learned about a skimmer, which sucks the oil off the water like a huge vacuum cleaner or adheres to the oil and lifts it off the water. For our skimmer we used medicine droppers. They were less successful than the cotton balls and paper towels, removing very little oil.
We seemed to find the most success using a chemical agent, which disperses and breaks down the oil. For this experiment Dawn dish soap simulated the chemical agent.
Through observation and critical thinking we concluded that a combination of methods would be most effective. Using a combination of the chemical agent and the boom, Katie was able to successfully clean up 98% of her oil spill!