For week three of my A STEM Summer, we did a chemical engineering experiement about oil spills. The best part was, we had all of the needed materials in our house already. The full directions are right here, but that page is full of typos and weird writing errors. I’m not sure what was going on with that, but the instructions still worked just fine.
- a glass bowl
- cooking oil
- cotton balls
- cheese cloth
- a hiking sock
First, a word about cheesecloth. Why the heck did I happen to have cheesecloth on hand? Well, it all goes back to a time period when my husband was into yogurt making, but that’s another story… 😉
If you don’t have cheesecloth on hand, you could probably use a rag or a paper towel.
Put some water and oil in a bowl and then let your kids try to sop up the oil using the different materials. Some helpful teaching tips would be to make sure each kid has his or her own bowl (less fighting that way) and have a plate ready to catch all the gross remains.
The polypropylene hiking sock really does turn out to be the clear winner. I’m not sure if my kids understand that the reason is because polypropylene and oil are both composed of carbon and hydrogen and therefore attract each other. But Bruce and Jenna definitely understand how hard it is to clean up oil, and why oil spills are so devastating to the environment.