Friday, January 23, 2015

Students learn about sustainable food, environmental science

Wednesday January 21, 2015 11:29 AM
AQUAPONICS LABORATORY
(Photos from Gardner Watkins)
David Dailey drilling holes after school 
Originally published in The Dublin Villager. See online version here 

At Dublin Scioto High School students are learning about sustainable food and environmental science first hand through a new aquaponics lab.

Aquaponics combines raising aquatic animals and hydroponics.

Hydroponics is the growing of plants in water instead of soil.

500 gallon tank
Gardner Watkins, the environmental science teacher at Scioto, said he hopes the aquaponics lab will become a valuable educational tool and a sustainable food source that can provide vegetables and fish to the Scioto cafeteria.

Currently, there are tilapia, oregano, rosemary, spinach, miniature Mexican watermelons, numerous types of lettuce and red, white and blue strawberries growing in the lab.

They grow in eight double beds, which resemble bunk beds where the fish are on the bottom and the plants are on top.

"If everyone tried aquaponics, we would reduce food costs substantially," said Watkins.

He has involved as many students in the project as possible.

Window garden
Environmental Science students are feeding the fish, monitoring the water quality and studying the growth rate of the fish.

The AP Physics students are designing LED lights and chemistry students are fixing pH levels in the water.

They have already done one harvest and plan on harvesting again this week.

Watkins submitted the idea last year for a $10,000 grant.

The idea made it to the semifinal round, but did not win.
Miniature mexican watermelon vines

"But then a week later, Mae McCorkle, a local philanthropist, heard about what we were doing and awarded us $10,000," Watkins said.

"That blew us away," he said.

Once they had funding, Chris White, a senior, asked Watkins if he could help build the aquaponics lab as his Eagle Scout project.

"I was already interested in aquaponics and so I was more than willing to help," White said.
Tilapia

"With the help of Mr. Watkins and my troop, we made a prototype, calculated the cost, showed it to engineers, and revised the design," he said.

But the design and building process was far from simple.

"We faced a lot of challenges," White said.

"All in all we went through 11 design changes before we started building and even when we started building we had to make even more changes," he said.

"We also faced time constraints so we had to do some of the construction off-site."

White remains in charge of getting the system up and running.

The lighting and plumbing are expected to be finished this week.

He said he plans on continuing to learn about aquaponics and study renewable energy in college.

Other students, such as David Dailey, a senior, often stay after school to work on the project.

"Right now I'm just drilling a few holes to hold the lights in place," Dailey said.

"I like building things and I know that this project will help a lot of people so I don't mind putting in the hard work," he said.

Watkins described Dailey as his "go-to guy" and praised how he thinks outside of the box and always makes designs better.

They have almost used up all of the grant money but they remain optimistic about the future of the project.

"I'm very grateful to Mrs.McCorkle for giving us the grant and making this possible," White said.

"Without her, this project might not have happened."

Page A8 of Jan 22 issue