Students experiment with a new materialâaerogel. Aerogel is a synthetic (human-made) porous ultra-light (low-density) material, in which the liquid component of a gel is replaced with a gas. In this activity, student pairs use aerogel to simulate the environmental engineering application of cleaning up oil spills. In a simple and fun way, this activity incorporates density calculations, the material effects of surface area, and hydrophobic and hydrophilic properties.
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Aerogel, commonly called "frozen smoke," is a super-material with some amazing properties. In this lesson and its associated activity, students learn about this silicon-based solid with a sponge-like structure. Students also learn about density and how aerogel is 99.8% air by volume, making it the lightest solid known to humans! Further, students learn about basic heat transfer and how aerogel is a great thermal insulator, having 39 times more insulation than the best fiberglass insulation. Students also learn about the wide array of aerogel applications.
Students learn how the force of water helps determine the size and shape of dams. They use clay to build models of four types of dams, and observe the force of the water against each type. They conclude by deciding which type of dam they, as Splash Engineering engineers, will design for Thirsty County.
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Students learn about Pascal's law, an important concept behind the engineering of dam and lock systems, such as the one that Thirsty County wants Splash Engineering to design for the Birdseye River (an ongoing hypothetical engineering scenario). Students observe the behavior of water in plastic water bottles spilling through holes punctured at different heights, seeing the distance water spurts from the holes, learning how water at a given depth exerts equal pressure in all directions, and how water at increasing depths is under increasing pressure.
Students are introduced to the concept of a dam and its potential benefits, which include water supply, electricity generation, flood control, recreation and irrigation. This lesson begins an ongoing classroom scenario in which student engineering teams working for the Splash Engineering firm design dams for a fictitious client, Thirsty County.