In chemistry we often move liquids from one place to another quickly and efficiently. Today we will make something that will allow us to do that without letting the liquids leak.

Materials (per group of 2-3 students):

  • 10 straws
  • 10 craft sticks
  • 4 rubber bands
  • 3 styrofoam cups
  • Roll of masking tape
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • 1-2 towels
  1. As you prepare for class, you may want to break up the materials into how many groups of students you have.
  2. Understand why pipelines are used:
      • Transport liquids like water, oil, natural gas in liquefied form, etc.
      • Make it easier for liquids to get from place to place, like when you need to get water out to remote areas, or oil from the place where it’s extracted to the place where it’s shipped to the rest of the world

3. Discuss how it’s important that pipelines don’t leak, so pollutants don’t get into the environment, and so that whatever you’re transporting is not wasted. The Dakota Access Pipeline is planned to transport oil, but because leaks almost always happen, members of the Sioux tribe are protesting it because it will pollute their water and sacred lands.

What is a pipeline? What are pipelines used for?

Activity: How can you build a water pipeline that will transport water with a minimum of leaking?

Here is the scenario

You live on a large plot of land and the backyard fenced dog area is 100 feet from the house. Carrying water to the dogs every day is a major chore, so the task is to create a working pipeline. The water tank near the house must hold water in an elevated tank and when the tank is filled the water will travel through the pipeline system and empty into the tank at the end near the dog’s fenced enclosure. This makes the water chore much simpler! The elevated tank can be filled by rainwater or water from the overhang of your house or gutters and this makes it environmentally friendly. Also, the pipeline itself does not touch the ground, therefore will not interfere with the natural part of your yard or animal habitats.

Constraints: (Leave these up during the activity – after you go over the activity steps!)

  1. You may use only the supplies provided which includes scissors and rulers.
  2. Your pipeline must connect from an elevated tank to an ending tank.
  3. The pipeline must be at least 100 cm long.
  4. The pipeline cannot touch the ground.
  5. The tanks may be secured to the tabletop.
  6. A minimum of leakage will be allowed.
  7. You may test your pipeline while building it in order to make needed improvements.


Allow teams 5 minutes to draw a plan for their pipeline. Give them paper, pencils, and a ruler, and allow them to handle the other materials, but not take them to their seats.


Spend the majority of time building the pipeline according to the constraints. Give materials to each group.


Pour water into the upper “tank” (1 of the cups) and see if it flows into the lower “tank” (the 2nd cup). Put towels on the table under the pipeline to catch leaks.

4. Improving

Have the students patch up where they find leaks in their pipelines, then test again, until they can transport a majority of the water without leaks (there may still be some leaks and that’s okay).

Let each group share to the whole class how they made their pipeline, what worked, what they had to improve, what they learned, etc.

  • Review: Why is it important for pipelines not to leak?