Science project

Don't Cry Over Spilled Oil

Safety Issues
Material Availability

The black tempera paint is available at craft and toy stores. The remainder of the materials is readily available or easily purchased at the grocery store 

Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project

One hour to complete the investigation and record observations; one day to prepare science fair display  


To explore what happens to the ocean and ocean life in an oil spill 

Materials and Equipment

  • Clear glass jar
  • Water
  • Blue food coloring
  • Clear plastic cup
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon black tempera paint
  • Spoon
  • Small plastic toy
  • Feather 

Background Information

Large tankers transport oil across our oceans. When safety precautions are ignored, oil spills happen. Also oil spills can occur from offshore drilling and underwater pipe lines. Oil spills damage our oceans and the plants and animals that live in the oceans and along the shores.  

In this investigation, an oil spill is simulated in a jar to observe the damage that oil spills have on the ocean and ocean life. 

Terms, Concepts, and Questions to Start Background Research


oil spill: an accidental release of oil into the ocean causing harm to the ocean and ocean life  


Oil spills can cause damage to our oceans and ocean life. 

Research Questions
  • How do oil spills cause damage to our oceans?
  • What causes oil spills?  

Experimental Procedure

  1. Gather the necessary materials.
  2. To make a model of an ocean, fill the jar half full with water. Add a few drops of blue food coloring.
  3. To make a model of an oil spill, pour one cup of vegetable oil into the plastic cup. Add a tablespoon of black tempera paint and stir.
  4. Pour the oil mixture into the jar of water. Observe and record what happens.
  5. Gently shake the jar. Observe and record.
  6. Gently blow on the water in the jar. Observe and record.
  7. Place the small plastic toy in the water and oil mixture. Observe and record. Remove the toy. Observe and record what the toy looks like.
  8. Place the feather in the water and oil mixture. Observe and record. Remove and record what the feather looks like. 



“Oils Spills” at 

“Oil Spills” at 

“Oil Spill”at 

“How Do You Clean Up an Oil Spill? by Josh Clark at

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