Until we no longer rely on oil, it will still be pumped and shipped around the world. The ugly truth about that is that using oil can lead to messy spills that are damaging to the environment and wildlife living in the area. Plus, cleaning up oil spills while trying to preserve and help the ecosystem is a difficult task. One physicist named Arden Warner has been studying some possible, effective and non-damaging ways and he may have come up with the solution-magnets. We previously talked about how his method would use high powered magnets, but now you can see for yourself how the method would work with this simple science experiment.

Supplies

  • Ferrofluid kit
  • Strong neodymium magnets
  • Food coloring (green or blue)
  • Water
  • At least 2 petri dishes (the kit comes with one)
  • A small sponge
  • Disposable cloth
  • Plastic bag
  • Popsicle stick
  • Rubber band

Steps

  1. In the ferrofluid kit, there are also gloves and a dropper. Put the gloves on to protect from staining from the ferrofluid.
  2. Place about 3mL of water in two petri dishes, until they are a little less than half full.
  3. Mix in a drop or two of coloring to help distinguish the water from the oil.
  4. The ferrofluid will serve as the oil. Using the dropper, take about 2mL of ferrofluid and put it in one petri dish. Do the same for the other petri dish.
  5. Prepare the neodymium magnet by placing in a plastic bag. Make sure that it fits into one corner of the bag snuggly.
  6. Prepare the other removal tool-the sponge, by placing a rubber band and popsicle stick around it. This will serve as a handle, allowing you to place the sponge in the petri dish without touching the liquid with your hands.
  7. Pick up the magnet in a bag and place the bag in one of the petri dishes. Move the magnet several times in the same direction.
  8. Quickly remove the bag and wipe the excess ferrofluid on a disposable cloth.
  9. In the other petri dish, place the sponge and make the same motion as used with the magnet.
  10. Remove and place the sponge on another disposable cloth.
  11. Observe the two petri dishes and note which one removed the most ferrofluid.

Once you’ve made your notes, answer questions like:

  • Which method removed more ferrofluid or “oil”?
  • Did the magnet remove more than the sponge and if so, why?

With this magnet experiment, you can teach magnetism, while still highlighting a real-life environmental problem. You can also check out the video of the actual magnetic tool being used here. Now that you have a better understanding of how the magnetic method to remove oil would work, do you think it is a viable solution?