Science project

Do Plants Experience Pollution? Will Plants Grow More or Less or be Unaffected when Grown in Polluted Soil?

Research Questions:

  • What is photosynthesis?
  • Under what kinds of conditions will most seeds germinate?
  • What are some of the substances that can pollute the soil?
  • What do scientists know about the effect of oil in the soil and its impact on plant germination and or growth?
  • Is the ph of the soil a critical factor in plant growth?
  • What is the ph of ordinary household vinegar?

On the information level, this experiment serves to acquaint students with current information on the conditions under which plants grow. The worlds of plants and animals are interdependent. We depend on plant life for our food, our clothing our shelter, our medicines. In brief we need plants to support our life cycle. Unfortunately in our continued efforts to improve our way of life, we have to some degree polluted our environment, our water, our air and our soil. Today great efforts are made to reduce the pollution in terms of all of our natural resources. In this project, we attempt to determine the effects of possible pollutants of our soil. Will soils that are contaminated with heavy oil or with acidic vinegar or with caffeinated coffee have a direct negative impact on plant growth or conversely will they serve as stimulants to plant growth. In experiments with tree growth, pollutants were detrimental to growth. In the case of the plants you have chosen; let us discover if this is the case. Good luck!

This science fair experiment also serves to acquaint students with the essential processes of sciencing such as the importance of the use of a control, of identifying dependent and independent variables, of data collection, of pictorial and or graphic presentation of data and of being able to make better judgments as to the validity and reliability of their findings. They take on the role of scientists and in the process they learn to act as one.


  • a package of seeds of sunflower or alfalfa or radishes
  • Planting pots
  • top soil
  • a measuring cup
  • water
  • a watering cup
  • a can of heavy motor oil
  • instant dry caffeinated coffee
  • a bottle of white vinegar
  • metric ruler
  • a camera

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Gather all the materials that you will need for this project. These include: a package of seeds of sunflower or alfalfa or radishes, planting pots, top soil, a measuring cup, water, a watering cup, a can of heavy motor oil, instant dry caffeinated coffee, and a bottle of white vinegar, metric ruler, labels, tape, a pencil and a camera. 
  2. Copy both the Observation Chart (making 7 copies) and the Summary Chart (making 1 copy).
  3.  Record your hypothesis. What predictions can you make? Which of the plants will survive? All or some and on what basis did you make the prediction?
  4. Fill your 8 planting pots with top soil. Each with the same amount. Read the directions on your seed package and plant the seeds as directed. Place the same number of seeds in each pot. Water as directed and place in a dark place for germination. Check for amount of time needed for germination. If you plan to supplement your observations with photos, start taking pictures now.
  5. When the seeds have germinated, inspect to see that you have the same number of seedlings in each pot. If not, weed some out.
  6. Now label the plants placing 2 plants in each category or group. Start with the controls. These plants will remain in uncontaminated top soil and therefore are labeled Control #1 and Control #2. We are being very safe in having 2 plants in each group in case one dies, we still have the other. Now, continue to label the groups of two plants as #1 and #2 +oil, #1and #2 +vinegar and #1and #2 plus coffee (caffeine). Our soil pollutants are oil, vinegar and caffeine. Will plants grow in these pollutants? Let us find out.
  7.  Take each group of plants and add the contaminants, placing one tablespoon of each contaminant as designated on the label, adding a tablespoon of oil, of vinegar, of dry, instant caffeinated coffee and of course, nothing to the controls. You have now contaminated 6 plants.
  8.  Place all 8 plant pots in full sunlight for the next 14 days watering them with equal amounts of tap water.
  9. Every two days, observe each group of plants and record your findings on the Observation Chart. You may also take photos.
  10. Review the data in the Observation Chart and average and summarize your results in the Summary Chart.
  11. Write your report. Make certain to include all of the research you conducted, all of the data as well as photos and the bibliography .You may want to go a step further and state what you think are some of implications of your results for direct application in growing plants.                                                       

                                                                 Chart of Observations

                                 Date: __________

Specimens Observations
Controls #1 ,#2  


                                                                        Summary Chart 

Specimens Averaged Data Results
Plants in Oily Soil  
Plants in Vinegar  
Plants in Caffeine  
Controls : No contaminants  


Terms/Concepts: Soils, top soil, pollutants, soil contaminants, metals, heavy metals, photosynthesis, constant conditions.


Jenner, Jan, Science Explorer, From Bacteria to Plants, Pearson, Prentice Hall, 2006 Allen, Katy, HoltScience &Technology, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 2005

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