Students engineer hydroponics lab

Students engineer hydroponics lab
Each day students must check the temperature of the water in the hydroponics lab. The lab is designed to raise fish and plants. (Abigail Padgett photo)

Glistening water, darting little fish and stone pebbles fill the Engineering Academy’s new hydroponics lab. Since the beginning of school the students have been at work on a project that allows the cultivation of plants in a nutrient solution rather than in soil. That lab is eco-friendly and conserves water and land. Engineering teacher Bart Burnett said he decided to introduce the project after seeing a similar structure in a newspaper article.

“The article showed how to design a swimming pool where instead of using chlorine and chemicals to clean the water they have a pond that  balances the water like our project does and then they run the swimming pool water into the pond,” Burnett said. “I thought that this was something we wanted to try.”

Students added breeding pairs of tropical fish to their aquatic farm and have a section for growing herbs. Their hope is that the hydroponics lab can be used as a teaching tool for other classes beyond the engineering room.

“We are hoping that the other science classes can use this for experiments they want to do as well,” junior Gabriel Grady said. “Our goal is to bring the whole community out to use our lab.”

The engineering team is using the lab as a campus-wide project as they grow herbs that can be used in culinary arts classes. Burnett says that the ecosystem is an organic way to grow plants and raise fish for educational purposes.

“Our goal is to create an ecosytem where we can raise fish, sell them and use them for noninvasive measures basically for observations in science labs and things like that,” Burnett said. “Then in that system instead of using a lot of chemicals and other materials, if we can organically take the water in there and all the waste from the fish and then cleanse that with plants while using that as food to help grow herbs, vegetables and the like, we can have a full ecosystem set up where we can grow fish for either food, testing purposes or just observation.”

Senior Malia Silva said the process of building the hydroponics lab helped her broaden her knowledge of what it is like to become an engineer.

“I learned that a project takes a long time,” Silva said. “When you start out with a design, it’s not going to be the same as the final design. There’s just a lot of work that goes into it.”

Students started this project at the beginning of the year and saw it through to the end. Through the process of building the aquatic farm, the engineering students learned more than how to build the lab. Silva said she learned a lot about hard work and dedication.

“We were not expecting this project to grow so big,”  Silva said. “It just made me believe that if you put hard work into something, you can achieve your goals.”