Oil Spill Solutions

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In this activity, learners explore how environmental engineers might approach solving the problem of an oil spill. Learners work in teams of "engineers" to develop a system to contain and then remove oil from a "spill." Teams decide on which materials they will use and how they will isolate the oil from the water. They then execute their plan with everyday materials, evaluate their results, observe the results of other "engineering" teams, and present findings to the class.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
Over $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Student Resource Sheets
  • Student Worksheets
  • Water basin or sink for testing
  • "Oil" (1/2 cup vegetable oil mixed with cocoa powder)
  • Rubber bands
  • Paper towels
  • String
  • Toothpicks
  • Cotton balls
  • Plastic wrap
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Shredded wheat cereal
  • Balloons
  • Cooked rice
  • Garden peat moss
  • Grass
  • Cork
  • Suction tube/cooking baster
  • Spoon
  • Other materials as needed


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
      • Oceans and Water
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Chemical Engineering
      • Environmental Engineering
      • Metallurgy and Materials Engineering
    • Technology
  • Life Sciences
    • Ecology
      • Ecosystems
      • Human Impact
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Chemical Bonding
      • Chemical Reactions
    • States of Matter
      • Solids
      • Liquids
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Volume and Density
  • The Nature of Science
    • Science and Society
      • Risks and Benefits
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results
    • Science as a Career
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Impacts of Technology
      • Technology and the Environment
    • The Design Process
      • Research and Development
      • Invention and Innovation
      • Problem Solving
      • Troubleshooting and Maintenance

Informal Categories

  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • 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



  • All rights reserved, IEEE,