Flag this photoWith the British Petroleum oil rig disaster still fresh in teachers' minds, discussing the event with grade-school children, including the long-term effects and damage to the Gulf's ecosystem, can be challenging. There is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm in fresh young minds that want to understand the oil spill and learn from it, to seek out ideas for either preventing future oil spills or cleaning them up quickly and safely, limiting the damage to the environment. At a science fair, a few projects that can demonstrate how oil spills happen and why they are so damaging to the water can have a lasting effect on everyone.Related Searches: Creating and Cleaning an Oil Spill
A fun science experiment that explains the progression of an oil spill's effects and clean-up efforts can be created by using some aluminum foil, shaping it like a boat with a hollow center, then filling it carefully with vegetable oil. An aquarium or some other large container for water can be used to carefully place the homemade boat inside. Creating waves around the boat will eventually cause it to rock violently and spill some of the oil into the water. Have various clean-up tools on hand, such as cotton balls, spoons, and pieces of cardboard. Have a checklist and a survey on hand for others to fill out, explaining which of the tools was easiest and worked the fastest to minimize the spill.Oil Can Also Sink
Oil doesn't just affect the surface of the water. Grade-school children need to understand how some variations and mixes of the substance can penetrate the surface and sink deep into the water, all the way to the bottom. Show how oil, when mixed with certain additives, becomes fuel oil or bunker fuel, and has a tendancy to sink. Filling the pre-made foil container with vegetable oil mixed with salt is a good way to demonstrate this. The added chemicals of sodium and chloride from the salt in the vegetable oil create the extra weight that makes some of the oil lose its buoyancy. A timer can be used to record how long it takes oil and salt deposits to touch the bottom of the tank. Measuring the tank from top to bottom can also give students an idea how many feet per minute the deposits would travel.What is Left Behind?
As the substance spreads on the bottom, you'll notice that globs of vegetable oil will start to pull away from the salty mix and rise back up to the surface. This is because the salt in the vegetable oil base is heavier than the water it's in, and can't stay attached to the oil. This same reaction can be explained as it relates to oil spills that sink deep into the water and then come back up over time, leaving harmful, toxic hydrocarbons and alkanes behind.Damage to the Bottom
You can further illustrate the damage that can be done on the bottom of the ocean or lake by dipping a long stick into the tank and running it through the collected oil and salt globules left on the bottom. Clumps of the oil will start to swirl around the stick, creating a small vortex whereby the clumps scatter in several directions and then land again in different parts of the tank. This is a good way to show how sunken oil, caught by an ocean's strong current, can become more damaging as it intersperses across the bottom.ReferencesNational Engineers Week Foundation: How to Make a Vegetable Oil TankerPhoto Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty ImagesRead Next: Print this articleCommentsFollow eHowFollow
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