At the moment, silica aerogel (especially in hydrophobic form) is especially expensive to buy on the common market - around $60 for a disc weighing roughly .2112 grams (a disc that measures 1.2 mm in height and 1.5 mm in diameter.)
For this, we would need to be able to create our own product; and while more expensive at first, it would ultimately pay off for testing in the long run. Being able to create our own aerogel would provide for much more efficient and varied testing: with the chemical formula for the chemical used to make it already known, manipulation for better results would be easily accessible.
Mock experiments would then be conducted much more frequently, and when trials move from out of the classroom and into the ocean we'll have much more precise data regarding the amount of aerogel needed to efficiently clean the oil spills, as well as any possible extra materials needed in order to make the project a viable alternative to current methods
The freeze drying chamber is used in the process of RSCE (rapid supercritical extraction), which turns the TMOS chemical from a liquid into a solid.
The TMOS (Tetramethoxysilane) is the chemical used to create the aerogel, with certain elements of the recipe being altered throughout testing in order to determine the best mixture for optimum results.
The unrefined petroleum oil is to the the absorbent properties of the aerogel on the substance that is most commonly dumped into the ocean, making it the number one priority for efficient cleanup.