Dirty Oil, Oily Dirt

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In this activity, learners discover how sediment is affected in an oil spill. Learners investigate the differences between heavy and light oil as well as the differences between different sediments. Use this activity to discuss the challenges involved in cleaning up oil in sediment after an oil spill.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 11

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 3 wide-mouth containers
  • measuring cup
  • coarse-grained sand or gravel
  • medium- to fine-grained sand
  • clay or mud
  • molasses (simulates heavy oil)
  • mineral oil (simulates light oil)
  • small glass
  • masking tape
  • pen
  • science journal


  • Life Sciences
    • Ecology
      • Human Impact
  • Physical Sciences
    • States of Matter
      • Solids
      • Liquids
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Atomic Structure
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations

Informal Categories

  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • NASA Center for Distance Learning, Office of Education at NASA’s Langley Research Center