Aquaponics is a term to describe the integration of aquaculture (fish farming) with hydroponics (growing plants without soil) in a closed-loop, mutually-supporting system. Fish wastes provide fertilizer for plant growth, while the plants filter and clean water to maintain a healthy environment for the fish. In areas where good soil is not in abundance or in urban settings, aquaponics has been investigated as a means of locally-grown sustenance for a community, and community-based aquaponics projects have been spreading throughout the country, even in the colder Great Lakes region (e.g., Sweetwater Organics and Growing Power in Milwaukee, WI).
Dr. Handler and Dr. Auer propose to use the aquaponics system as a tool to illustrate a variety of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts. Properly functioning aquaponics systems seem simple, but a great deal of biological and chemical activity is occurring in a thoughtfully-engineered system, resulting in many teachable moments and illustrative scenarios for students in a variety of disciplines. In the first year of system operation, we have used the system for teaching modules in 4 Michigan Tech classes. Several undergraduate student groups have toured the system, two students have completed independent study projects related to the project, and the Consumer Product Manufacturing (CPM) Enterprise group has a team of engineering students dedicated to devising process improvements for the system. We hosted roughly 100 5th-7th graders as part of the Lake Superior Water festival held in October 2012, and have proposed to include an aquaponics module in a Summer Teacher Institute organized by the Western UP Center for Science, Math, and Environmental Education.
The SFI looks forward to continuing their current collaboration with a variety of Michigan Tech groups on various aspects of the aquaponics system, and leveraging this successful experience into larger opportunities in the future.