Experiment III, Vienna, 31 January 2020

Using the same crude oil samples as two weeks before, we carried out our third series of experiments, again at the Laboratory of the University of Applied Arts together with Leonhard Gruber. This time we undertook a series of emulsion formation experiments, using a glass tank filled with desalinated water, and dripping oil into the water to examine the results. We then also experimented with adding detergent and absorbent.

We started our experiments by examining the solubility of crude oil. Our equipment consisted of the three crude oil samples (Vienna Basin, Kumkol, Geisum without condensate) a glass tank filled with desalinated water, detergent and an absorbent (Rotisorb Universal). We documented the experiment with a camera centered on a tripod above the glass tank.

First we used the Vienna Basin sample, dripping oil droplet by droplet into the middle of the glass tank. The resulting ‘oil spill’ grew more and more slowly, resulting in a somewhat irregular circle. The oil remained on the surface of the water. To clean the tank for the next sample, we used paper towels to gently lift the oil film off the surface.

The Geisum sample droplets dissolved much faster on the surface, but gradually slowed down the more droplets were added. This is due to the oil and water being increasingly mixed; shapes form because the substance is not homogenous. Pouring absorbent, which is commonly used in lab accidents, into the tank, results in a big lump of matter that can now be removed and disposed of.

Finally, we added droplets of our last sample, Kumkol, to the now again clean water tank, and then put some detergent in. The oil immediately spreads to the edges of the water, breaking up into increasingly smaller fragments.

We reflected on how oil spills are removed and discussed the question of so-called ‘missing oil’: oil that sinks, for example after an oil spill, but is still very much there. We considered how oil is not present in the cultural landscape other than at the stock exchange and in natural disasters. During the oil spill the substance becomes visible.

experiment I Vienna I emulsion formation I oil spill I missing oil