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Re: Science Fair Project: Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Postby SciB » Mon Feb 26, 2018 8:05 pm

Hi Vlance.

I wish your phytol extraction had worked. That would have added a DIY aspect to the project. But I'm sure you learned some things about running experiments in a lab. Many times I have had to modify a procedure because some part of it did not work the way I expected it to. The important thing is to think through how the change might affect your experiment and you did that.

Can you give me some more details about what you read. I don't think I understood what you were saying. Did you mean that you could not do the oil clean-up experiment in salt water because the sodium cation reacts with phytol? Where did you read that and what exactly did it say?

You said "...I did not need the olive oil". What did you mean? How can you do the project without oil??

How do you know that you don't have enough phytol?

You said "...I have confirmed this as an engineering project." OK. What's wrong with that? Engineers and chemists and biologists all work together to solve problems in the environment. They have to. Chemists have to develop the compounds to dissolve or break up the oil, biologists need to check them for toxicity and engineers have to figure out how to collect the oil spill. Can you please explain in more detail exactly what you meant. Accurate communication is VERY important in science.

Of course you can use fresh water for your experiments. Oil spills can happen anywhere.

How do you know that phytol is toxic? It is part of the chlorophyll molecule. We eat it every time we eat green plants. Did you mean that the phytol you purchased contains a solvent that might be toxic? Please explain better. Working in a fume hood is necessary if you are using certain organic chemicals. It depends on the chemical. More information, please!

If you are having a problem with your project, don't wait--talk to us! We are here especially to help you when you hit a snag. Tell me what's going on and I can maybe suggest a work-around.

Sybee

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Re: Science Fair Project: Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Postby Vlance » Thu Mar 01, 2018 4:20 pm

Hi Sybee,
Yesterday I performed part of my science fair project. Sadly I came out unsuccessful and the phytol mixed with avocado oil did not congeal or group the motor oil I put on salt water. I was very disappointed but then one of my friends found a article about my project and it says that it takes a couple of hours for the phytol to work! The article also said that for the phytol to work it had to be combined with an amino acid. I understand that amino acids are related to protein so does that mean that the avocado oil is high in amino acids? I have some of the leftover solution from my first 2 prototypes so far and will leave them on the oil for longer to try again but I'm not sure if I have the right ingredients now. This is a link to the article; https://www.popularmechanics.com/scienc ... odegrades/

-Vlance

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Re: Science Fair Project: Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Postby SciB » Thu Mar 01, 2018 8:06 pm

Hi Vlance,

I read the article from Pop Mechanics July 2015 about using phytol as a biodegradable 'oil herder'. Now I understand better how the phytol is supposed to work.

Have you had a course in basic chemistry yet? If you look at a representation of the phytol molecule (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytol) you can see that one end has an --OH group on it. That is why it is called an alcohol. It is also why that part of the phytol molecule is soluble in water (either salt or fresh, doesn't matter). Forget about the amino acid. I don't know why the article mentioned that. The --OH group is all that is needed.

The other part of the phytol molecule where you see the 'sawtooth' effect is the di-terpene part. That part is soluble in oil.

So, the reason that phytol is able to reduce the surface tension of water and cause oil molecules to clump together is because it has both a water-soluble and an oil-soluble part.

Have you had enough chemistry to follow what I am saying? Please let me know if you don't understand something.

There are still a lot of things that you haven't explained to me. I can't help very well if you won't take the time to answer my questions. Why did you mix phytol with avocado oil? I read an article in ScienceAdvances (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articl ... figure/F1/) that shows that the phytol was simply sprayed around the oil slick, which then contracted into a smaller mass that can be burned. How much phytol did you use? How much motor oil? How large was the surface area of the water that you put the oil on? How did you apply the phytol to the oil slick?

I think mixing the phytol with avocado oil prevented it from working properly. As I understand the method, you should spray phytol solution AROUND the oil slick and then measure how much the oil slick contracts. What I don't know and what you need to determine by experiment is how much phytol is needed for a given amount of oil. This is something that oil spill workers would absolutely have to know. I suspect that what they do is spray phytol around the oil slick and watch what happens, then spray some more until the oil has contracted to the point where they can burn all of it.

How much phytol do you have left? I would try the oil slick again using just a small amount of motor oil and straight phytol, NOT mixed with oil. Put a small drop of the motor oil in the center of the water and try to measure the diameter of the slick just before you apply the phytol. I don't know what would be the best way to get the phytol solution around the oil. I guess you could spray it, but the sprayer would have to be pretty small because the volume of phytol is small. How did you apply it before?

Sybee

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Re: Science Fair Project: Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Postby Vlance » Fri Mar 02, 2018 12:58 pm

Hi Sybee,
I have not really done any basic chemistry yet but I think I'm following what your saying. I added the avocado oil to the phytol because one article told me a plant based fat was needed to break the surface tension and I was trying to make the phytol less toxic to marine life because it came with that warning on the bottle. Why would the avocado oil have stopped the phytol from working? I have 5 milliliters of phytol left so I need to be careful about what I do with it. I was putting the motor oil and phytol on salt water from the ocean with a pipette. This is a link to the actual study of the experiment that my teacher recently found, I'm not fully understanding all the science terminology so I was wondering if you could help me understand what parts are important to the experiment, [link no longer valid]

Thank you,
Vlance

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Re: Science Fair Project: Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Postby SciB » Fri Mar 02, 2018 3:15 pm

Oh, so chemistry is sort of a black box for you right now. OK, I'll try to explain in language you can understand. If not, make a note of your questions and send them and I will answer them one by one. Chemistry is important stuff and I want you to have an accurate idea of molecules and reactions.

Phytol is a molecule as I said, and one end can dissolve in water while the other end dissolves in oil. Maybe that doesn't make any sense to you, but someday it will. When you added oil to the phytol the oil end was saturated with avocado oil and was not free to interact with the motor oil. The change in surface tension can only occur when the water end of phytol is in the water and the oil end is in motor oil.

Don't worry about toxicity to marine life at this point. All you want to do now is show that phytol can cause an oil slick to contract and make it easier to collect or burn the oil. Leave the chemistry to the company that is trying to create a nontoxic, biodegradable form of phytol for oil slick remediation.

You still have not told me how much motor oil you put onto what surface area of water. Maybe you should make a list of my questions and answer them one by one. Your answers are necessary for me to think about the experiment and give you good advice.

How large are the bowls [the diameter is what i am after] that you will be using to test the phytol? You need to use the exact same bowl and the same amount of water for each test. After you have decided on the amount of water to use--maybe to within a half inch of the rim of the bowl--measure the diameter of the water and use the formula for the area of a circle to calculate the surface area of the water. This is kept constant and it is a number that you must report as part of your project.

You want to add enough motor oil to create a slick but not cover the entire water surface. That is why i keep asking you how much oil you are adding to how much water. You have to be able to say how much you used, so you need to know the volume of one drop of oil if you are using a dropper. You can measure this but you will need a cylinder graduated in milliliters that you can fill to the mark while counting drops.

The next problem then is how to apply the phytol. Remember, the phytol is sprayed AROUND the slick, not ON the slick. You don't want to break up the slick, you want it to contract into a smaller area that can be collected more easily. I really have no idea how much phytol you need to add for a certain amount of oil. How are you applying the phytol? I think spraying would be too difficult so you have to use a small dropper to put it around the slick. This is going to be hard because you have to measure the diameter of the slick before you add the phytol and then after a certain length of time when the slick has contracted as far as it will.

There was a server error when i tried to look at the email link you sent. I will try again later.

Read my explanations and suggestions carefully, please answer ALL my questions and let's try to decide the best way for you to proceed.

Sybee

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Re: Science Fair Project: Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Postby Vlance » Sun Mar 04, 2018 12:19 pm

Hi Sybee,
When I conducted my experiment I used 1.5 milliliters of ocean water, with 1/2 a milliliter of motor oil on it, and 1/4 milliliter of the phytol and avocado oil on that. I am using a paint pallet (the on in this picture [photo removed by student) and the diameter of each circle is 3.5 centimeters. I was applying the phytol with a pipette but the liquid was a little thicker than I expected (possible because of the avocado oil) so it was squirting on top of oil. I found that the oil would spread out around the circle of the paint pallets. This is the same article I was telling you about that you couldn't access only I tried sending it to you in a different way, http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/ ... 65/tab-pdf

-Vlance

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Re: Science Fair Project: Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Postby SciB » Sun Mar 04, 2018 1:31 pm

I read the methods part of the ScienceAdvances paper and it leaves out some important details, like the size of the plastic tray that they used to make the oil slick in:

"A plastic tray was filled with water up to 2 cm deep, and then the calculated amount of oil was poured on the water surface and allowed to spread to equilibrium to create a thin film of oil. A digital photograph was taken from an automatic overhead camera for subsequent oil area analysis. Next, the recommended dose of green herder (20 microliters of herder’s stock solution in toluene delivering 2.34 mg of herder based on the standard dose of 150 mg/m2) was supplied using a micropipette and, instantaneously, the thin oil layer contracted to a thick oil slick."

Looking at the photo in Fig. 3b it is not possible to tell how large the trays are, but I'm sure they are larger than 3.5 cm across. I can see some clear areas around the oil slick.

In order to do this experiment you need to make an oil slick. That is a THIN film of oil that floats on the water but does not cover the entire surface.

Get some glass bowls all the same diameter--say 10 to 15 cm--and fill them to within 2.5 cm of the top with water. Now pipet a small amount of oil, say 100 ul (microliters) on top of the water in the center and watch what happens. The oil should spread out into a thin film and then stop with some clear areas around it. THAT is an oil slick. If 100 ul is too much oil use less; if not enough use more.

Now using the micropipette, pipet 100 ul of phytol only (NO OIL!) onto the water around the oil slick and watch what happens. I don't know how much phytol you will need to add so you will just have to add a small amount and see what happens. The main thing is to put the phytol on the water around the motor oil--not on top of it. As you see in the photo in Fig. 3c and d, the oil contracted into a smaller thicker area. That is what you are looking to happen.

Try this experiment and let me know what happened.

Sybee

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Re: Science Fair Project: Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Postby Vlance » Wed Mar 14, 2018 2:08 pm

Hi Sybee,
I am going to be testing out my experiment with your suggestions but I do not have the glass bowl you said I needed but I was wondering if plastic container would work because I have a lot with the exact diameter you said I needed.

-Vlance

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Re: Science Fair Project: Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Postby SciB » Thu Mar 15, 2018 7:20 am

Plastic containers should work OK. Try a little experiment first. Fill some bowls with water at a temp of around 20 C. You should measure the temp of the water and record that in your lab notebook.

Add one drop of crude oil to the center of the water in one bowl and measure how far the oil slick extends after five minutes, or so. The oil should not reach the edges of the bowl. If one drop is not enough, try two or three as needed. As long as you have a clear area around the slick to add the phytol the experiment will work.

Good luck! Let me know what happens with your little experiment.

Sybee

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Re: Science Fair Project: Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Postby Vlance » Tue Mar 20, 2018 3:00 pm

Hi Sybee,
I have some great news!!! Thanks to your tip on getting the oil spill to actually be a simulated oil spill, all of my prototypes worked (even the avocado ones). My next step is to test the toxicity of each prototype and evaluate which one I think is best.

Thank you so much,
Vlance

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Re: Science Fair Project: Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Postby SciB » Wed Mar 21, 2018 6:14 am

Yaay! Great news that your experiments are finally working. That was a wonderful idea you had to test a natural product like phytol to make it easier to clean up oil spills. Phytol should not be toxic to marine life since it breaks down quickly in the environment. Also, it is cheap and abundant!

When you have more questions about the science or in understanding journal articles for your write-up of the project, don't wait--ask NOW. We're always here to help give you a hand up to make your project the best it can be.

Sybee

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Re: Science Fair Project: Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Postby Vlance » Wed Mar 28, 2018 5:54 pm

Hi Sybee,
So as you know I tested the phytol and it worked but I couldn't not observe if the phytol was breaking down because it is a clear liquid. I was going to do another 2 trials and take the pH everyday until it gets back to a normal water pH. I also wanted to test how toxic the liquid was because I wanted to know if the phytol would harm marine life (on the website of the place it came from it said it was harmful to aquatic animals) but I don't know if doing these 2 sub tests would be like doing 2 more different science fair projects, but in my project proposal I said that I wanted the solution to biodegrade and be non-toxic. I want to know if I am packing too much into one science fair project because I want to make sure I don't confuse people about what my topic was.

-Vlance

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Re: Science Fair Project: Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Postby SciB » Thu Mar 29, 2018 6:50 am

Hi Vlance,

Congratulations on showing the efficacy of phytol in oil clean-up. I think that is enough for one school science project. Your plans to test for toxicity to marine life and the biodegradability of phytol are good and necessary. An environmental scientist would perform those tests as part of their project, but they have more time, people and money to do it.

Are you interested in marine biology/ecology? Do you live near the ocean or bay? If so you can continue your experiments by collecting some marine organisms like krill, plankton or cyanobacteria, exposing them to phytol and measuring the effect on survival, growth or behavior. Here are some websites with information on this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquatic_toxicology
https://oehha.ca.gov/media/downloads/ec ... netox3.pdf
https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/fi ... l_2002.pdf
https://ehemj.com/article-1-48-en.pdf
https://www.sigmaaldrich.com/catalog/se ... xtEALw_wcB

I really don't know anything about the biodegradation of phytol in the ocean. There would be lots of factors that affect the breakdown--temperature, sunlight, pH, type of marine organisms present in the water, how much phytol was present and the effects of residual oil. Studying phytol breakdown in the ocean would take a lot of work and knowledge of chemistry, biochemistry and marine ecosystems. I hope you decide to become a scientist. It is a very satisfying career and offers a lifetime of exciting exploration and finding new things in our amazing natural world.

I hope you continue to use Scibuddies so we can work together again in the future.

Good luck!

Sybee

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Re: Science Fair Project: Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Postby Vlance » Thu Mar 29, 2018 7:00 am

Hi Sybee,
Thank you for all your help! I am going to test the toxicity of the phytol on Daphnia, although they will be in fresh water it will still reflect the toxicity of the phytol. To see when the phytol breaks down I will take the ph of the water right after I put the phytol on and then monitor it everyday until the ph returns to normal salt water levels.

-Vlance

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Re: Science Fair Project: Cleaning Up Oil Spills

Postby SciB » Thu Mar 29, 2018 11:31 am

You are welcome, VLance! I hope we can work together again.

Please let us know how your Daphnia experiment turns out. You are just going to test phytol, right? No oil. The hydrocarbons in crude oil would likely affect Daphnia adversely in some way, but since phytol is part of chlorophyll and Daphnia eat algae which contains lots of chlorophyll, i would predict that phytol would not hurt them--at least in reasonable amounts.

Are there any other chemicals in your phytol? Phytol is a liquid that is insoluble in water but is soluble in organic solvents. I am wondering if the company you bought the phytol from sent it dissolved it in a solvent. Check the label of your phytol and make sure it is JUST phytol and not dissolved in some other chemical.

I am a little confused about your experiment to determine how long it takes for phytol to biodegrade. For one thing, if you just put phytol in distilled water you will not be measuring biological but chemical effects. There are many organisms in sea water that might be able to digest phytol but none in distilled water. Can you explain how a pH change shows degradation of phytol?

I'm asking these questions because they are questions that a judge or someone reading your report may ask you and you need to show them that you are aware of these issues and can explain how you justify the experiments you did.

Let me know if you have questions.

Sybee


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