After covering the Gulf Oil Spill last summer for Scholastic News, I decided to base my 4th grade science project on what I learned.
In Louisiana, the Coast Guard took me and my editor out on a boat to see where the oil had stained the grasses in the wetlands. I also visited the aquarium in New Orleans where I saw turtles that had been cleaned and would be soon be returned to the ocean. I learned that mayonnaise was used to clean the oil off both the grass and turtles.
To clean a turtle that has been covered in oil, the people at the aquarium scrubbed the turtles down with mayo. They cleaned their mouths with mayo on cotton swabs. They also feed mayonnaise to them. Eating mayonnaise cleaned the oil out of the animals’ digestive systems.
In the wetlands, the mayo would stick on the grass and absorb the oil. Pounding waves against the grasses then washed both the mayo and the oil off the grasses and out to sea.
My science fair question was: What well known hamburger condiment could be used to clean up an oil spill? My hypothesis was that mayonnaise would clean oil off the grass the best.
I started out with three identical pots of pet grass similar to the marshes in LA. I covered each with 30-weight automobile oil. Using ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, I attempted to clean the oil from the three different pots of plants.
I found that the ketchup and mustard dripped off the grass, leaving the oil behind. The mayonnaise stuck to the grass and absorbed the oil.
When I rinsed the grasses in a clean bucket of water, the ketchup came off but not the oil. Same thing with the mustard. However, both the mayonnaise and the oil came off the grass with plain water. My hypothesis was correct! Best part of the whole thing? I got an A!
Now, I wonder what it is about mayonnaise that makes it so oil absorbent? Mayo is made of vegetable oil and egg. Is it the vegetable oil, or the egg? Or do both have to be mixed together a certain way? Hmmmm. Maybe, for next year's science fair project......
PHOTOS: (TOP) Kid Reporter Trinity Vogel works on her Gulf Oil Spill science fair project. (BOTTOM) Three containers of grasses next to (from left) mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard. (Photos Courtesy Trinity Vogel)