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The Engineering Design Process: Meringue Aerogel Film Filters

Grades: 6-12
Author: Marjorie Langston
Source: The lesson is the original work of the author. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. EFC-1542358


Research currently being done at the University of Akron involves the creation of a gel polymer emulsion to make aerogels. The emulsifying agent (and dissolved phase) in the gel cannot simply be evaporated out because the holes left behind in the gel will collapse. Thus, a multistep solution exchange process is performed to get rid of the emulsifying agent (and dissolved phase) and leave the pores (holes) left behind intact. The result is a solid with lots and lots of holes in it called an aerogel. These aerogels can be poured into various molds or onto a flat surface (substrate) to create a film.

Aerogels have been used in recent years by NASA and other entities because they have unique properties like having very low densities and being incredible thermal insulators. Aerogels are also being studied for their filtering capabilities.

In this lesson, students will make films and test the filtering capabilities of meringue which is an aerogel. Their engineering challenge to create an improved meringue aerogel film filter. This STEM lesson can be taught in 2-3 days as simply an engineering design challenge of or it can be taught over 2-3 weeks in which the full engineering design process including multiple presentations is taught. Included in this lesson is an Introduction to STEM Education Teacher Powerpoint and an Engineering Design Notebook with metrics for ensuring that all students are on task at all times and presentation rubrics. Further, this notebook makes assessing individual contributions to the cooperative assignments easier many other projects.


What should students know as a result of this lesson?

  • Scientific Inquiry
  • STEAM/21 st Century Skills—collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, conflict resolution, perseverance
  • The engineering design process
  • The following terms: emulsion, emulsifying agent, compressive strength, aerogel, immiscible
  • Macrostructure of aerogels; properties and uses of aerogels; ways properties and thus uses of a material are manipulated for desired uses via altering factors such as stir times, stir speed, etc.
  • That aerogels are important substances being researched at the University of Akron and NASA

What should the students be able to do as a result of this lesson?

  • Explain/Define: the engineering design process, emulsion, emulsifying agent, compressive strength, aerogel, issues with making aerogels
  • Use the engineering design process and STEAM/21 st Century Skills (collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, conflict resolution, perseverance) to design a process
  • List properties and uses of aerogels
  • Explain how changing various factors such as stir speed, stir time, temperature, etc affect the properties and, thus, uses of a material


To be shared by the class:

  • Aerogel Sample ($30-$100)—can be purchased from or . These samples are important. Alternatively, you could contact the manufacturer as ask them to donate samples to your class. Also, you can contact the Akron Global Polymer Academy to see if the research labs have samples they plan to throw away.
  • (Optional) Access to an oven/toaster oven for making meringue cookies or store bought meringue cookies
  • Access to a heat source (hot plates, Bunsen burner, oven/toaster oven) is helpful
  • Access to the internet and computers/tablets/smartphones/etc.; Google Slides, PowerPoint, or other presentation software
  • Candy mixture to use to determine pairs/groups
  • 1 pack of post-it notes in 2 different colors
  • Samples to be tested (filtered). As of the writing of this lesson, I am not sure exactly how we will test it. We may measure/weigh 1/4 cup of the mixture, pour it through the filter, and measure/reweigh that which gets through. The challenge might become be to filter out one particular particle. Example. If the mixture was salt and very coarsely ground coffee, the challenge could be to filter out the coffee and allow the salt to pass through. The reverse could be the case with finely ground coffee and salt.

Per Group:

  • A metal or glass bowl
  • Whisk/electric mixer
  • Meringue cookie supplies (eggs, sugar, parchment paper, lemon juice, salt, cream of tartar)
  • Optional meringue cookie supplies (food coloring, sprinkles, etc.) Alternatively, you can have students bring in supplies that they want to try.
  • Samples to be filtered



A few weeks prior:

  • Order aerogel samples from or or check with the Akron Global Polymer Academy at The University of Akron
  • Ask your administration if the permission slip in the Engineering Design Notebook is adequate so that you can use pictures of students and their work samples for educational purposes. (You can use them in your professional portfolio, at conferences, etc.)
  • Say to the students, ‘You will be doing a STEM/STEAM project soon. You will be to use the batter of meringue cookies as filter and then your engineering design challenge will be to make an improved filter by altering how your make them. Take pictures as you go.’
  • You may want to notify them that groups will be chosen at random.
  • (You) watch all videos on the video list (See Attached.)
  • Familiarize yourself with LinkedIn or have an aid or student who often works ahead familiarize her/himself so that s/he can help others
  • Photocopy the Aerogel Pre/Posttest and the Engineering Design Notebook.
  • Photocopy many copies of Mini Presentation and Final Presentation Rubrics which are in the Engineering Design Notebook for the peer graders to use.
  • Make mixtures of sand, silt, etc. to be used as the filtrate. If you don’t have access to these items, in theory, you could use almost anything (superfine sugar, salt, ground coffee, any safe chemical or spice, etc). You may want to grind them in a coffee grinder, in a blender, or with a mortar and pestle. You will want particles of various sizes. As of the writing of this lesson, I am unsure exactly what mixture I will use.

Day 1-2:

  • Intro: Aerogel Teacher Demo—Say to the students, ‘I need a volunteer. You will close your eyes and put your hands out palms up. I will an index card in each hand. I will then put an aerogel sample in one hand. Your job will be to guess which hand it is in.’ (You can touch both hands a lot to try and/or tell them you aren’t ready even after you have placed the sample in the hand to try to confuse them. You can do this with a few volunteers. Alternatively, you can put samples at various desks and let them students do it to each other. This activity will help them see one unique property of aerogels—their very low density. Afterwards, pass the samples around telling the students not to crush them because some are brittle.)
  • Handout and then collect the Aerogel Pretest.
  • Handout the Engineering Design Notebook.
  • Tell the students, ‘Polymers are a group of compounds with repeating units which include plastic, rubber, glue, and some clothing among other things.’
  • Tell the students, ‘Each day moving forward, we will watch 1 (or 2) videos from the video list until we finish it. You will have time to record answers in the Basic Info Section of your Engineering Design Notebook. You will get a little more info as we watch videos each day. The answers (info) are not necessarily in order. Some answers (i.e. uses, properties, etc.) are in more than one video. I will post the video list so that you have access to them.’


Day 3-4:

  • Watch a video. Give students time to record notes on the Basic Info page.
  • Introduce/review problem and engineering design challenge by reading the paragraphs below which is also in their Engineering Design Notebook:
    • The Situation

      When you shake a bottle of oil and vinegar salad dressing and look at it (before the layers separate), you are looking at an emulsion. An emulsion is a heterogeneous mixture of two or more immiscible substances dispersed in each other. Often, a chemical called an emulsifying agent is added to prevent the layers from separating back.

      Aerogel research is currently being done at the University of Akron to create films/coatings which can filter out contaminants and thus improve our health. It is also being done to create better matrices for cells to grow on to fight disease, aid injuries, etc.

      This research involves the creation of an aerogel by first creating a gel polymer emulsion. Unfortunately, the emulsifying agent (and dissolved liquid) cannot simply be evaporated because the holes left behind in the gel will collapse. Thus, a multistep solution exchange process is performed to get rid of them and leave the holes left behind intact. This involves the sample being soaked in a solution for 24 hours, put into a (different) solution for 24 hours, and then a third liquid for 24 hours before being soaked and dried with supercritical liquid carbon dioxide. The result is a solid with lots and lots of pores (holes) in it called an aerogel.

      The gel is poured into a mold to create a specific shape or poured onto flat surface (called a substrate) to create a film before the solution exchanges take place. As you would expect, changing various factors alters the properties of the aerogels including the size of the pores (holes). Examples of these factors include stir time, stir speed, temperature, and the chemicals (surfactant, dispersed phase, continuous phase) used/removed and the amount of each used.

      Today, you are a polymer engineer. You will create and test a meringue aerogel to be used as filter. Then, your challenge is to improve the filtering capabilities of your meringue aerogel filter.
  • Give students time to record notes on the Basic Info page.
  • Remind students that they should take pictures as they go for their presentations.
  • Give the students meringue cookies or allow them to make them using the recipe.
  • Have them make the batter (again). Rather than making them the traditional shape, have them pour the batter onto parchment paper to create a thin film. As of the writing of this lesson, I do not know which recipe I will use and how long we will cook the films. We will probably bake them in toaster ovens or in the kitchen after school.
  • Have the students test the filtering capabilities. As of the writing of this lesson, I am not sure exactly how we will test it. We may take 1/4 cup of the mixture, pour it over the filter, and measure how gets through. The challenge may be to filter out one particular particle. Example. If the mixture was salt and very coarsely ground coffee, the challenge could be to filter out the salt and allow the coffee to pass through.

Day 5-6: Deciding on Design Constraints, Brainstorming, Planning

  • (Have a volunteer go to the board.) Say to the class, ‘The person at the board will record our ideas and then we will vote on some of them. Are there design constraints (rules) that we should consider as we now think about altering our recipe?’ Some things you can ask are, ‘Should cost be a factor? Are there any restrictions that you want to place on the amount of a material allowed?’ (Have the class vote and then have the students record the Design Constraints in the appropriate section of the Engineering Design Notebook. Tell the students, ‘Bring me your notebook so I can sign off when you have the Design Constraints recorded. We will move on once I have signed everyone’s paper.’
  • Allow the students time on the internet to look at meringue recipes INDIVIDUALLY and QUIETLY. Tell them that they will have time to discuss their thoughts in a bit.
  • Have students complete the first box of the Imagine/Brainstorm Page of the Engineering Design Notebook. Tell students, ‘We will move on once I have initialed every person’s paper.’ (There is a spot for you to sign under the ‘My Ideas’ box.)
  • Optional way of choosing pairs: Allow students to choose the candy they want. Once everyone has chosen, tell them, ‘Your partner is the person with the same candy. Go find your partner. You may eat your candy as you come up with a team name and finish the Imagine/Brainstorm Page. Again, once I have signed everyone’s paper, we will move on.’ (There is another spot for you to sign.) Note: Signing is a means of making sure each person/group is on task and progressing. Also, it allows you to quickly check work/provide feedback and input points later.
  • Have students complete Project Planning Log. Sign the logs.

Day 7-10: Testing

  • Today and from each day forward:
    • Read the Teacher Powerpoint (Introduction to STEAM, STEAM Habits of Mind, and Engineering Design Process, Who Cares About Soft Skills, etc.) (See Attached Powerpoint).
    • Maybe have it on playing on continuous loop on the smart board.
    • Have students watch 1-2 videos on aerogels/airloys and answer questions in Basic Info Section of Engineering Design Notebook.
  • Have students work on their challenge recording Lab Notes in Engineering Design Notebook and taking pictures as they go. Remind them to be as descriptive as possible with their notes.

Day 10-12: Preparing for Presentations

  • Turn to the Mini Presentation Rubric. Go through it with them in detail. Have students put together a 4-8 slide presentation (less than 7 min). The topics to cover are detailed in the rubric. Tell students they will be graded by their peers as well as by you. I would make this a very low key presentation.
  • Have students complete Reflection portion of the Project Planning Log.

Day 13-14: Presentations

  • Handout 3-4 rubrics to each team. Have them complete the top (names, team name, date). Collect it and hand them out to audience members before each team presents so the audience can also grade. Tell those who are grading to not put their name on the sheet they receive to relieve social pressure.
  • Hand out two different colored post-its to each table. Tell students that when they are not grading, they will write team names and ‘one great thing about this project is . . .’ on one colored post-it and ‘one thing to consider or one way to improve. . .’ on the other before putting the post-its in a specific area of the room after each presentation. Have a student/student aid check off each student as they turn in their comments to ensure all participate. Note: Students must complete the post-its immediately following each presentation otherwise they will forget. Also, you should complete and collect each of your grade sheets as soon as each group finished presenting for the same reason.
  • Have each group present. Have 3-4 students grade. Choose different students each time to grade. Remember to give students time to finish grading and writing on the post-its after each presentation.
  • Have student aid hand out post-its to each group.
  • About 7 min before class ends, give students time to put post-its on their Peer Feedback page of the Engineering Design Notebook and to evaluate comments. group lessens some of the social intimidation.

Day 15-16: Reflection, Redesign Constraints, Brainstorming, Planning

  • Allow class to evaluate their comments.
  • Have the class decide on Redesign Constraints and record in notebook. Note: The new constraints are only for the groups that accomplished the challenge in the first round. Those that didn’t accomplish the goal still work under the original constraints.
  • Allow students to brainstorm again, complete Brainstorm (Redesign) page and Project Planning Log (Redesign) of Engineering Design Notebook. Sign logs.

Day 17-18: Retest

  • Have students record Redesign Lab Notes and take pictures as they go.

Day 19-22: Prepare for Final Presentation and Create LinkedIn Page

  • Finish Reflection portion of Project Planning Log.
  • Go through Final Presentation Rubric
  • Have students make their final presentation by adding to their Mini Presentation
  • Have students make LinkedIn Page and link their presentation to it. A good (student) LinkedIn page will have a professional headshot; a 1-3 sentence bio; work and volunteer experience; awards including honors/AP/college classes, class rank, and GPA; and the project. Note: As of the writing of this lesson, the Accomplishment Section has a section for awards, courses, and projects.

Day 23-24: Final Presentation

  • Final Presentations with peer graders again
  • Self, Group, Peer Evaluation
  • Posttest
  • Show and post to Google Drive, Classroom, etc. the STEM scholarship/internship list.


Students will explain what they have learned and how they grew in STEAM/21st Century Skills via the Mini Group Presentation, Final Presentation/LinkedIn Page, and Posttest. Prior to that, they build communication, creativity, and critical thinking through the brainstorming activity which requires that they come up with ideas on their own, explain their ideas to their partner, and then, together, decide which idea they will pursue. The students will also build communication/explanation skills via the Self, Group, and Peer evaluation and Peer ‘Post-It’ Feedback Activity.


Students will brainstorm other uses of aerogels including ways aerogels can improve lives on the posttest.


Basic Lab Safety. Knowledge of the term compressive strength/stress. Basic knowledge of a polymer is helpful but not necessary.

Best Teaching Practices

  • Wait Time
  • Hands on/Minds on Learning
  • Inquiry Approaches
  • Using Analogies
  • Graphic Organizers
  • Models
  • Problem-solving

Alignment with Standards

NGSS Standards:, 2019, Grades 9-12

  • HS.PS1.Matter & Interactions.
    • SEP.Developing and Using Models
    • SEP.Asking and Defining Problems
    • SEP.Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
    • SEP.Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
    • SEP.Engaging in Argument from Evidence
    • SEP.Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
  • HS.PS1.Structure and Properties of Matter.
    • SEP.Developing and Using Models
    • SEP.Asking and Defining Problems
    • SEP.Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
    • SEP.Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
    • SEP.Engaging in Argument from Evidence
    • SEP.Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
  • HS.ETS1-3.Engineering Design.
    • SEP.Developing and Using Models
    • SEP.Asking and Defining Problems
    • SEP.Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
    • SEP.Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
    • SEP.Engaging in Argument from Evidence
    • SEP.Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Informationo DCI.Developing Possible Solutions
    • DCI.Developing Possible Solutions
    • DCI.Optimizing Design Solutions
    • CC.Systems and Models
    • CC.Connections to Engineering, Technology, and Applied Science

ITEEA Standards:, Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology, 3rd edition, 2007

  • The Nature of Technology.3.Students will develop an understanding of the relationships among technologies and the connections between technology and other fields of study.
  • Technology and Society.4.Students will develop an understanding of the cultural, social, and economic, and political effects of technology.
  • Design.8.Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design.
  • Design.9. Students will develop and understanding of engineering design.
  • Design.10.Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research, and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving.
  • Design.11.Students will develop the abilities to apply the design process.

Ohio Standards:


SCIENCE INQUIRY AND APPLICATION - During the years of grades 9 through 12, all students must use the following scientific processes with appropriate laboratory safety techniques to construct their knowledge and understanding in all science content areas:

  • Identify questions and concepts that guide scientific investigations;
  • Design and conduct scientific investigations;
  • Recognize and analyze explanations and models; and
  • Communicate and support a scientific argument



Content Knowledge

The Engineering Design Process, 21st Century Skills, Emulsions/solutions, Emulsifying agent, Compressive strength, How to use PowerPoint/Google Slides, Internet research


  • Basic Lab Safety

Applications (Where is this content applied in the “real world?”)

The filtering capabilities of aerogels are researched at The University of Akron and The Ohio State University. These substances can be used to improve air quality and, thus, our health. The researchers altering various factors such as stir time, stir rate, choice of surfactant, choice of dispersed phase, and temperature to alter the size of the pores are being studied as this expands the filtering capabilities of the aerogel.


Pretest. Basic Info Page. Brainstorming. Design Challenge Results. Lab Notes and Pictures. Mini Presentation. Self, Group and Peer Review. Peer Feedback. Redesign Brainstorm. Redesign Challenge Results. Final Presentation/LinkedIn Page. Posttest.

Other Considerations

Grouping Suggestions:

  • Students should work in pairs or groups of 3—maximum. Determine how many groups you will have. Purchase a mixed bag of candy. Sort it so that you have only 2 (or 3) of each kind. Allow students to choose the candy they want. Before eating, tell them that their partner is the person with the same candy. Note: you will want to decide if the same candy but of a different flavor counts as the same candy or a different candy.

Pacing/Suggested Time:

  • The engineering design challenge can be done as a 2-3 day mini challenge or as written with engineering design notebook and individual assessments built in over a longer time frame. The more familiar students are with the engineering design process, the easier it is to make this a shorter challenge. See the ‘Procedure’ above. Note: You may want to have some basic assignments prepared for those who finish their presentation or other group work earlier than others. For example, if students are in high school, they could apply for any scholarship related to soft skills or STEM. Students could also complete a video note-taking guide for a science video. Students who did poorly on a chapter could go back and do extra practice from that unit. Rather than watching videos each day, you may want to just watch the videos on the first few days of the project.

Printable PDF Worksheets

Extra Resources

Video List

Overview of Properties:

Videos that Highlight a Specific Property of Aerogels:

Thermal Isulative



The Aerogel Synthesis Process

  • Agnello Polyimide Aerogels - Weight Savers for Aircraft Antennae. A good summary of the work being done at NASA which mirrors that being done By Dr. Sadhan Jana’s research group at the University Akron. Highlights the work of a young female engineer. 2013. (2:16 min)
  • How It’s Made—1336 Aerogel. A thorough summary though somewhat boring. 2017. (5:60 min)

Safety Disclaimer