On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oilrig sank in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in an oil spill of 4.9 million barrels, one of the largest environmental disasters in United States history. In response to this disaster, the X Prize Foundation sponsored the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge, with a one million dollar top prize for engineers to develop better ways to clean up oil after an offshore oil spill. Inspired by the oil spill cleanup challenge, a class project was developed for students in a junior-level fluid mechanics course to develop and implement an oil-spill cleanup solution. Students had one semester to design and build an oil spill cleanup device. At the end of the semester final testing took place in a 20-foot long water table, which was filled with water 6 inches deep. Then for each team of 3–4 students 100 mL of cooking oil was dispersed into the water table, and they had 20 minutes to recover as much of the oil as they could. The grading for the project was based in part on the percentage of the oil the students could recover in the allotted time. The students employed a wide range of techniques, including skimmers, scoopers, and absorbers. The students also had to write a report explaining how their model solution in the water table could be scaled up to full-scale use in an actual offshore oil spill.

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