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Activity 3.7b Instant Challenge: Oil Spill
Introduction
There are many ways to solve a problem. Sometimes it is as simple as applying a
piece of duct tape. Other times it takes months or years for a product to progress
from an idea into full-scale production. In this activity your team will quickly design a
solution to a problem sometimes encountered by environmental engineers when an
oil spill endangers the environment.
Equipment
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Paper
Pencil
Clock or timer
Scissors
Large bucket or sink for testing
“Oil” (1/2 cup vegetable oil mixed with cocoa powder works well)
Materials (may vary)
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4 Rubber bands
12 inches of string
2 tongue depressors
2 paper clips
1 sheet of newspaper
2 balloons
2 paper towels
1 straw
Cooked rice
Grass
6 inches of masking tape
6 cotton balls
Plastic spoon
Plastic wrap
Other materials as desired (toothpicks, plastic wrap, wood mulch, wooden
cubes, cotton swabs, syringe, shredded paper, etc.)
Procedure
Using only the materials provided, design and build a device, system, or process
to “clean up” an oil spill. The oil spill will consist of ½ cup of vegetable oil poured
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IED – Activity 3.7b Instant Challenge: Oil Spill – Page 1
into a bucket or sink full of water. The clean-up should first contain the spill and
then remove the oil.
1. Your team will have 15 minutes to devise a solution and document the solution
both in writing and in graphical form with a drawing. Next you will have 5 minutes
to demonstrate your solution. The clean-up process will be timed and the
effectiveness of your solution scored.
2. Use the design process learned in Unit 1. Document each step in your
engineering notebook as you complete this design challenge.
Scoring
Your team may receive points for the following.
 Creativity: Up to 10 points for creativity in the design and use of materials.
 Teamwork: Up to 10 points for how well your team works together.
 Time: Your team will receive 15 points from which one point will be subtracted
for each 20 second period required to complete the clean-up. After five
minutes your team will receive zero points for time, the test will end and your
performance will be evaluated.
 Performance:
 Your team will receive points according to the following level of
containment.
o 10 points – the oil was completely contained within a 12 in.2 area
o 8 points – the oil was completely contained within a 30 in.2 area
o 6 points – the oil was completely contained within a 50 in.2 area
o 4 points – the oil was completely contained within a 80 in.2 area
o 0 points – the oil was not contained within an 80 in.2 area
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IED – Activity 3.7b Instant Challenge: Oil Spill – Page 2
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Your team will receive points according to the following level of oil
removal
o 10 point – water is completely clear of all oil
o 8 points – about a quarter of the oil remains
o 6 points – about half of the oil remains
o 4 points – about three quarters of the oil remains
o 0 points – no oil was removed.
Conclusion
1. What property of oil dictates that most types of oil float on water? Be specific.
2. Other than physically removing the oil, what other methods might be used to
eliminate an oil slick? (This may require research.)
3. If you had the opportunity to optimize your design, how would reduce the amount
of materials used?
4. If you had the opportunity to optimize your design, how would you reduce the
time required for clean-up?
5. How could you improve the effectiveness of your team?
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IED – Activity 3.7b Instant Challenge: Oil Spill – Page 3