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An aquaculture challenge for high school students

PLANTING THE SEEDS OF STEM—Students at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute grow plants treated with fertilizer created in the school’s own aquaponic lab.
PLANTING THE SEEDS OF STEM—Students at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute grow plants treated with fertilizer created in the school’s own aquaponic lab.

Fertilizing “floating” plants with nitrogen-rich fish feces provides real-life chemistry, biology and engineering lessons to high school students working in Baltimore Polytechnic Institute’s aquaponic laboratory.

Students manage four 200-gallon tanks of tilapia and yellow perch (which provide the fertilizer) as well as two 15-foot plant beds of fruits and vegetables.

Because this required constant water quality monitoring—for oxygen, pH, conductivity and other factors—the school turned to volunteer Harry Berman, a retired senior system engineer from NASA with more than 45 years of experience.


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Berman showed computer science students how to create a “command center” with old computers and equipment.

Students wrote code, including updates for a nitrate probe and a program to measure dissolved carbon dioxide-oxygen interplay.

“Although we could buy ready-made programs, it is better to have our kids learn real-world coding applications,” says biology teacher Jeffrey Reeser.


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The data is collected every five seconds, and then analyzed by Reeser and his students throughout the day.

New projects continue to arise as students learn by trial and error.

Engineering students, for example are currently looking at how to best support the weight of the vegetables on the floating rafts.