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General Card #1428
Boston Molasses Disaster Tank Redesign
Updated: 11/21/2022 2:03 PM by Kristine Horvat
Reviewed: 12/1/2022 11:26 AM by Stephanie Gillespie
Students can redesign a tank that was a part of a historical disaster
How Dangerous Can a Container of Molasses Be?
On January 15, 1919, a molasses storage tank in Boston ruptured, creating a molasses wave traveling at 35 mph to flood the city and kill 21 people. But, you and Doc Brown can save these people with your DeLorean time machine!   U.S. Industrial Alcohol owns this tank, which stores molasses from the Caribbean for the production alcohol for ammunitions.  Travel back to January 14, 1919, and it is your job to convince the chairman of the company’s board, Charles Edward Adams, to replace his tank with a tank made from another, better but cost effective material.     

In this activity, students can consider different material options to design a new tank that is the same size as the original tank, keeping in mind safety and cost.  In groups of 3, each student will choose a different material to investigate.  Each student will then research the pros and cons of this material for the tank application, and they will calculate the required tank thickness and tank cost.  Back in their groups of 3, students can assess which of these three materials would be best for this new tank.  Each group of students must then pitch their replacement tank material to persuade Charles Edward Adams to replace his tank.

Students must use their curiosity when selecting tank material replacement options. There are so many materials available for students to choose, therefore they need to do their own research beyond the materials that are commonly discussed in an introduction to materials course. In doing this research, they need to make connections between the properties that have been discussed in class, the properties are important when designing a tank, and the properties that these new materials have. In their persuasive pitch, students need to consider how they can convince Charles Edward Adams the value of replacing his current tank with a new, safer tank. 
  • Integrate information from many sources to gain insight
  • Assess and manage risk
Creating Value
  • Persist through and learn from failure
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