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Urine Trouble™ Water Purification

When contamination forces HAWC miners to recycle waste water, students provide a safe solution.



Jake Plissken, senior communications officer on the lunar outpost, has become ill. When contaminated resources are found, the HAWC miners switch to emergency water and food rations to avoid infection. With no hope of immediate rescue, they begin recovering water from any source necessary. In this kit, students will learn about procedures to recycle urine into drinking water and test their results for safety.


  1. Analyze synthetic urine for salt content with a lead nitrate reaction. Test pH and the presence of urobilin by building a colorimeter and calibrating it with a standard curve.
  2. Design and build an efficient distillation apparatus.
  3. Analyze purified distillate for salt, pH, and urobilin to determine if its safe to drink.

Learning Objectives

  1. List the major components of urine and the mechanisms of filtration and reabsorption.
  2. Explain the basic parts of a colorimeter and its mechanism of operation.
  3. Use the dilution equation to create a procedure for serial dilution.
  4. Create a standard curve to calibrate a colorimeter.
  5. Construct an electrical circuit to drive a LED.
  6. Understand and measure pH. 
  7. Perform a qualitative chemical reaction to test for chlorides.
  8. Construct and test a distillation apparatus.
  9. Develop an understanding of a chemical equation by performing a reaction.
  10. Explain mechanisms of heat transfer: conduction, convection, radiation, phase change, and advection.

Next Generation Science Standards

  • PS1.A: structure and properties of matter
    • HS-PS1-2. Construct and revise an explanation for the outcome of a simple chemical reaction based on the outermost electron states of atoms, trends in the periodic table, and knowledge of the patterns of chemical properties.
    • HS-PS1-5. Apply scientific principles and evidence to provide an explanation about the effects of changing the temperature or concentration of the reacting particles on the rate at which a reaction occurs.
    • HS-PS1-6. Refine the design of a chemical system by specifying a change in conditions that would produce increased amounts of products at equilibrium.
    • HS-PS1-7. Use mathematical representations to support the claim that atoms, and therefore mass, are conserved during a chemical reaction.
    • MS-PS1-1. Develop models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.
    • MS-PS1-2. Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.
    • MS-PS1-5. Develop and use a model to describe how the total number of atoms does not change in a chemical reaction and thus mass is conserved.
  • PS3.B: conservation of energy and energy transfer
    • HS-PS3-3. Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy
    • MS-PS3-3. Apply scientific principles to design, construct, and test a device that either minimizes or maximizes thermal energy transfer.
    • MS-PS3-5. Construct, use, and present arguments to support the claim that when the motion energy of an object changes, energy is transferred to or from the object.
  • PS4.B: electromagnetic radiation
    • MS-PS4-2. Develop and use a model to describe that waves are reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through various materials.
  • PS4.C: information technologies and instrumentation
  • LS1.A: structure and function
    • MS-LS1-3. Use argument supported by evidence for how the body is a system of interacting subsystems composed of groups of cells.
  • ESS3.C: human impacts on earth systems
    • HS-ESS3-1. Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity
    • MS-ESS3-4. Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems.
  • ETS1.A: defining and delimiting an engineering problem
    • HS-ETS1-1. Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
    • HS-ETS1-2. Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.
    • MS-ETS1-1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
  • ETS1.B: developing possible solutions
  • ETS1.C: optimizing the design solution
    • MS-ETS1-2. Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
    • MS-ETS1-3. Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.
    • MS-ETS1-4. Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.
  • ETS2.A: interdependence of science, engineering, and technology

Common Core Mathematics Standards

Note: It is impossible for one kit to fully teach the nuances of each common core standard. However, an introduction to topics within many of these standards are contained within the activity text, procedure, pre-and post-lab questions. This kit makes an excellent introduction to practical applications of the topics covered by the standards.

  • Grade 8
    • Expressions and Equations
      • Analyze and solve linear equations
        • 8.EE.C.7 - Solve linear equations in one variable.
    • Functions
      • Define, evaluate, and compare functions
        • 8.F.A.1 Understand that a function is a rule that assigns to each input exactly one output.
        • 8.F.A.2 Compare properties of two functions each represented in a different way.
  • High School: Number and Quantity
    • Reason quantitatively and use units to solve problems
      • HSN-Q.A.2 - Define appropriate quantities for the purpose of descriptive modeling.
      • HSN-Q.A.3 - Choose a level of accuracy appropriate to limitations of measurement when reporting quantities.
  • High School: Algebra
    • Create equations that describe numbers or relationships
      • HSA-CED.A.1 Create equations and inequalities in one variable and use them to solve problems
      • HSA-CED.A.4 Rearrange formulas to highlight a quantity of interest, using the same reasoning as in solving equations.
    • Understand solving equations as a process and explain the reasoning
      • HSA-REI.A.1 Explain each step in solving a simple equation as following from the equality of numbers asserted at the previous step, starting from the assumption that the original equation has a solution
  • High School: Functions
    • Build a function that models a relationship between two quantities
      • HSF-BF.A.1 Write a function that describes a relationship between two quantities.
Included Materials
  • Colorimeter parts (photocells, LEDs, wire, bottle, battery, clay sealant) (8)
  • Tubes to prepare standard curve (32)
  • Lead Nitrate (8)
  • Standard Curve Dye Solution (8)
  • Transfer pipettes (32)
  • pH Strips (16)
  • Microcentrifuge tubes (16)
Required Materials
  • Sink with running water
  • Hot glue gun and glue
  • Labeling tape or permanent markers
  • Graduated cylinders (25 - 100mL)
  • 1L bottle and small funnel
  • Paper towels and aluminum foil
  • For each group:
    • 500mL Pyrex Beaker
    • 50mL Pyrex Beaker
    • Bunsen burner or hotplate
    • Multimeter or datalogging equipment to measure resistance
Storage Conditions Cool and Dark (Ambient)
Stability Indefinite

Teacher Manuals

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