A Bit of Engineering

American Association of Petroleum Geologists

Activity Source: 

Adapted with permission by JOI Learning.


The Noble John Sandifer jackup oil rig
Courtesy Earth Science World Image Bank; Copyright © Noblecorp




The JOIDES Resolution is an amazing ship that contains all the equipment necessary to drill into the ocean floor for samples of rock and sediment: a derrick, drill pipe, drilling tools, and drill bits. Once the cylindrical core sample arrives on the rig floor, the drill crew passes the 10 m core to technicians. They, in turn, carry it to the catwalk, where it is cut into 1.5 m sections and labeled. After the core is brought up on deck, the technicians notify the rest of the crew by yelling: “CORE ON DECK!”

Technicians handle cores very carefully so as not to disrupt the contents. Finally, the cylindrical core sections are cut in half lengthwise so lab techs and scientists can take samples and write descriptions of the contents in hopes of discovering new information. But who brings the core from the sea floor to the deck and who figures out how to drill? Drillers, drilling technicians, and engineers.


  • Artificial substrata (stacked peanut butter and jelly sandwich squares, stacked layers of salt and flour dough mixed in two colors, or stacked layers of clay in two colors, for example)
  • Plastic tubing (diameter of a turkey baster)
  • Clear jumbo plastic straws
  • Slim colored straws (for drilling and coring)
  • Thin coffee stirrers (for core removal)
  • Computer with Internet access


  1. View the JOIDES Resolution drilling video available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTBh77AcaAw . Discuss the drilling process. See split core photos (http://joidesresolution.org/?s=split+core+). Why is it important to keep the core intact. Discuss the need for problem solving when coring the ocean floor. What might happen if sediment is too hard or too soft? What do would likely happen if the drillers or technicians were careless with samples?
  2. Separate into small groups, and prepare to drill your own core samples today, simulating the procedure of producing good core samples that can be described accurately. Discuss what will be your group’s approach to drilling into your “substrate.”
  3. Prepare your a sandwich (or your substrate of choice) as well as all three drilling tools — plastic tubing, jumbo straw, slim straw — and a coffee stirrer.
  4. Hypothesize which tool would be appropriate for drilling. Drill cores using all three tools. Once the cores are collected, remove the cores (if possible) and describe your results.
  5. Discuss:
    • Which tool worked most efficiently? Why?
    • How did you use each tool? What method did you use (shove, twist)?
    • Are all the layers of the sandwich represented in the core sample?
    • How did the drilling process affect the core sample? Was there any damage?
    • Did you encounter any problems while drilling? How did you solve them?
    • Could a scientist have used your core sample for accurate research? Why?

See http://joidesresolution.org/ for more videos, photos, and information about cores and the data that come from them.