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Lets have some good old fashioned science fun and do an experiment to find out which materials
best clean up an oil spill. We will use Polypropylene cloth, cotton balls, and cheese cloth or guaze to
conduct our experiment. In the process we will learn about how oil spills effect the environment.

Check out our Polymer Oil Spill Experiment:


- Vegetable oil (yellow works best)
- Tablespoon
- Large clear bowl or container
- Water
- Spoon
- Cheesecloth or gauze
- Cotton balls
- Polypropylene cloth (sock liners work well)

Process for the Oil Spill Science Experiment
1) Pour water into the bowl or container until its about 1/2 way full.
2) Use the tablespoon and begin adding the vegetable oil until you have an oil slick on top of the
3) Note what occurs when the oil comes is added to the water?
4) Make a prediction about which item (cheese cloth (gauze), cotton balls, or  Polypropylene cloth will
be the best for removing the oil. Next, try using all three items (one at a time) to remove the oil from
the water? Which one removed the most oil and lest the most water?  

The Science Behind the Oil Spill Experiment
As you most likely notice the  Polypropylene cloth removed the oil best. Polypropylene and oil are both
composed of carbon and hydrogen. Because if this they are attracted to each other. On the other
hand, oil and water are made of different elements - so they are not attracted to each other. When oil
and water are mixed together it becomes an immiscible solution. This means they can not mix
together and will forever separate into layers.

Polypropylene is utilized to gather oil spilled on water, a major ecological and environmental problem.
Oil spills often harm wildlife and damage fragile ecosystems. Because polypropylene floats and
absorbs oil, the spill can be removed fairly simply.  Polypropylene  a synthetic type of cloth material. It
is often used for cold winter clothing (gloves and sock liners).

Oil Spills

An oil spill is the release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment due to human
activity, and is a form of pollution. The term often refers to marine oil spills, where oil is released into
the ocean or coastal waters. The oil may be a variety of materials, including crude oil, refined
petroleum products (such as gasoline or diesel fuel) or by-products, ships' bunkers, oily refuse or oil
mixed in waste. Spills take months or even years to clean up. Oil also enters the marine environment
from natural oil seeps. Most human-made oil pollution comes from land-based activity, but public
attention and regulation has tended to focus most sharply on seagoing oil tankers.

Environmental Effects Of Oil Spills

The oil penetrates up the structure of the plumage of birds, reducing its insulating ability, and so
making the birds more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations and much less buoyant in the water. It
also impairs birds' flight abilities to forage and escape from predators. As they attempt to preen, birds
typically ingest oil that covers their feathers, causing kidney damage, altered liver function, and
digestive tract irritation. This and the limited foraging ability quickly causes dehydration and metabolic
imbalances. Hormonal balance alteration including changes in luteinizing protein can also result in
some birds exposed to petroleum. Most birds affected by an oil spill die unless there is human

Marine mammals exposed to oil spills are affected in similar ways as seabirds. Oil coats the fur of
Sea otters and seals, reducing its insulation abilities and leading to body temperature fluctuations
and hypothermia. Ingestion of the oil causes dehydration and impaired digestions.

Because oil floats on top of water, less light penetrates into the water, limiting the photosynthesis of
marine plants and phytoplankton. This, as well as decreasing the fauna populations, affects the food
chain in the ecosystem.

A sheen is usually dispersed (but not cleaned up) with detergents which makes oil settle to the
bottom. Oils that are denser than water, such as Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), can be more
difficult to clean as they make the seabed toxic.

Methods For Cleaning Oil Spills

  • Bioremediation: use of microorganisms or biological agents to break down or remove oil
  • Bioremediation Accelerator: Oleophilic, hydrophobic chemical, containing no bacteria, which
    chemically and physically bonds to both soluble and insoluble hydrocarbons. The
    bioremedation accelerator acts as a herding agent in water and on the surface, floating
    molecules to the surface of the water, including solubles such as phenols and BTEX, forming
    gel-like agglomerations. Non-detectable levels of hydrocarbons can be obtained in produced
    water and manageable water columns. By over spraying sheen with bio remediation
    accelerator, sheen is eliminated within minutes. Whether applied on land or on water, the
    nutrient-rich emulsion, creates a bloom of local, indigenous, pre-existing, hydrocarbon-
    consuming bacteria. Those specific bacteria break down the hydrocarbons into water and
    carbon dioxide, with EPA tests showing 98% of alkanes biodegraded in 28 days; and
    aromatics being biodegraded 200 times faster than in nature.
  • Controlled burning can effectively reduce the amount of oil in water, if done properly. But it can
    only be done in low wind,[citation needed] and can cause air pollution.
  • Dispersants act as detergents, clustering around oil globules and allowing them to be carried
    away in the water. This improves the surface aesthetically, and mobilizes the oil. Smaller oil
    droplets, scattered by currents, may cause less harm and may degrade more easily. But the
    dispersed oil droplets infiltrate into deeper water and can lethally contaminate coral. Recent
    research indicates that some dispersant are toxic to corals.
  • Watch and wait: in some cases, natural attenuation of oil may be most appropriate, due to the
    invasive nature of facilitated methods of remediation, particularly in ecologically sensitive
    areas.[citation needed]
  • Dredging: for oils dispersed with detergents and other oils denser than water.
  • Skimming: Requires calm waters
  • Solidifying

Equipment Used to Clean Up Oil Spills

  • Booms: large floating barriers that round up oil and lift the oil off the water
  • Skimmers: skim the oil
  • Sorbents: large absorbents that absorb oil
  • Chemical and biological agents: helps to break down the oil
  • Vacuums: remove oil from beaches and water surface
  • Shovels and other road equipments: typically used to clean up oil on beaches
  • Certain Products such as Nokomis 3

Source: wikipedia