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Promoting sustainable development through aquaphonics

By summer’s end, if all goes well, a group of students plan to serve up food they’ve cultivated in former distillery vats—tilapia on a bed of lettuce.

Until then, the students who are trying to develop a soil-less food production system at Mountaintop are figuring things out.  

There are practical matters to tend to: Hauling four 1,000-liter industrial containers to the site from New Jersey, locating a hose to fill the containers with water, and cutting off the tanks’ hard plastic tops.

But there are loftier aims: To cultivate fish while growing plants in water, to help a Peace Corps volunteer in his work in Armenia in southeastern Europe.

“The ultimate goal,” said Alex Derish '14, one of the students on the team, “is to remotely drop the tanks in an environment that wouldn’t otherwise be able to produce food.”

Welcome to Lehigh Aquaponics, a sustainable development project that is among the mulitple enterprises under way this summer in Building C on the Mountaintop campus. It combines aquaculture (raising fish in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water).

The project brings together four Lehigh students from diverse fields of study: Jeff Schwartz ’16 is a civil engineering major; Kimberly Hetrick ’14, environmental engineering; Emily Poche ’16, international relations and French and Francophone studies; and Derish, ’14, finance.

The students’ project grew out of a Sustainable Development Solutions class at Lehigh taught by Mark Orrs, professor of practice in the department of political science and director of sustainable development. To expand on that work, the students are developing, on site at Mountaintop, an educational aquaponics system. Orrs, along with Richard Weisman, professor of water resources engineering, are project mentors.

Read the full story in the Lehigh University News Center.

-by Mary Ellen Alu

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