Tabletop biosphere project: free instructions and an update


Last year MAKE magazine published a tutorial I wrote about how to make a closed ecological system in a sealed bottle. It was a significant improvement on the earlier attempts I had made. My new system could reliably sustain Amano shrimp for 3 months or more, and snails indefinitely.

photo by the author, hosted by flickr

“The TSSM (Tabletop Shrimp Support Module) is a fun demonstration of the ecological cycles that keep us all alive, and an enticement to muse on everything from Godhood to space colonization,” I wrote in the teaser, and hey, I believe that more than ever now. Everybody should do this project.

Now MAKE’s a pricey mag — well worth it of course — but nonetheless it was nice to see the editors release my article to the public as a free PDF. In the months since the MAKE piece I’ve occasionally heard from people who did the project, in comments on various web forums. I’m pleased to learn that some of these projects have turned out really well — the Sparks Research Group has had one TSSM supporting their shrimp econaut for 4 months, and another one at 6 months and going strong.

Most of the questions I’ve gotten have to do with switching ingredients or adding extra animals. The short answer is, DON’T. Making a bottle ecosystem is not the same as just throwing some stuff from the local pond in a jar, and it is nothing like running a regular fish tank. There is a reason for everything in the article. If you get too many animals or nutrients in there the animals are going to run out of oxygen pronto. You don’t want your little civilization to just survive, anyway — you want it to thrive. It’s a tenuous balance, but you can learn to walk it like a tightrope artist.

See the parallels to the human situation here? If you don’t, then you really need to make this project.

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