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Oil Spill

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    Lawrence Hall of Science

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Oil Spill

In this simulation, learners try to clean up an "oil spill" with different items to understand the challenge scientists face in finding the best materials to clean up large oil spills in nature. Learners test cotton balls, dryer lint, sand, and grass to find out which absorbs the most oil. Then, learners submit their findings and comments online. The web page includes a video interview with a NASA environmental engineer and a link to other resources and activities.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 6 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Simulation


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Dishtub, small bucket, or large bowl filled halfway with water
  • Heavy cooking oil (such as olive oil)
  • Dryer lint
  • Cotton balls
  • Grass
  • Sand (or kitty litter)
  • Paper towels
  • Newspaper
  • Computer with internet connection


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
      • Oceans and Water
  • Life Sciences
    • Ecology
      • Human Impact
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Solutions
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Communicating Results
    • Science as a Career
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process
      • Problem Solving


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • use keyboard
  • use mouse
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Uses STEM to solve real-world problems
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

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Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All Rights Reserved, The Regents of the University of California, ©2009

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