Life aquatic

Life aquatic

Mona Chiang

Last April, a scientist spent 13 days living inside a watertight capsule that was dunked into a lake. He wouldn’t have survived without help from a group of teens.

For his bioSUB project, biologist Lloyd Godson wanted to learn what it would take to live inside a sealed-off environment. So he packed his tiny “sub” with a portable toilet and an electric generator. But how did he get the oxygen he needs to breathe?

Godson got help from students at Cascade High School in Idaho, who had built a device called a Biocoil. The contraption feeds algae with carbon dioxide and nutrients, such as nitrogen, found in sewage ponds. When exposed to light, the single-celled plantlike organisms convert the light and food into energy to grow. During this process, called photosynthesis, the algae emit oxygen as waste.

With help from their science teacher, the teens had originally designed the Biocoil for environmental cleanup. Godson believed that the device could do more: He reasoned that the algae could use the carbon dioxide he exhaled, and provide him with oxygen in return. “He asked us to adapt the Biocoil for him,” says Clint Kennedy, Cascade’s biology teacher. “My class did great.”

The students believe the Biocoil could provide oxygen to astronauts during long-term space travel. They hope to team up with space scientists someday.

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