Note: For an explanation of brickiness, see Brickiness: Part 1 – Solar Ovens
We’re a long ways from the Gulf here in Nebraska, but that didn’t stop us from experimenting with some ways to clean it up. After a little research, the students came up with a few solutions of their own and we worked on how we might apply them based on the supplies we had available. Armed with my 3 year old’s pool (4 ft. diameter), some sand, a small boat, some motor oil, and a cardboard recreation of the Deep Water Horizon we went the back parking lot and tested the students’ creation.
The students came up with five different (testable) solutions. One student used an old bike tire inner-tube as a boom to corral the oil into a specific area. Though he didn’t have a way to get rid of the oil once he’d collected it, the boom was pretty effective at rounding up the oil into one place. The next effort, requested by several students, was to burn it. I was about 98% sure this wouldn’t work in our experiment (a student later discovered that motor oil won’t ignite until it hits 200+ degrees Celsius), but we gave it a go anyway. The students were excited to play with matches, though I insisted on lighting them, just in case. While the burning solution fizzled quickly in our test, the next student’s solution did slightly better. He used some of the powdery stuff normally reserved for vomit incidents in the classroom. It appeared to clump up a few spots of oil, but the clumps quickly sank to the bottom, which made it a little impractical. Another student used a toy suction device, but it didn’t do much either. By far the most effective was an absorbent boom made of nylons with sponges stuffed inside. It absorbed a fairly significant amount of oil and was fairly easy to attach to our toy boat.
After finishing our experiment and rating the success of each strategy, we went back inside and discussed the large scale feasibility of the various solutions. Looking at a map of where the oil was and comparing it to the scale of our experiment helped the students see just how daunting a task cleaning up all the oil is. Nevertheless, they were energized and requested to try their experiments in a bigger pool. While we probably won’t be able to test their oil busting ideas on a larger scale, the students were excited by the potential for their solutions. It was an exciting and messy day, but an inspiring one none the less. Though none of their ideas were major breakthroughs, cleaning up all that oil needs some “bricky” ideas. Those ideas may come from places we least expect.