MFC Update 6: Disaster

You wouldn’t think algae would be a very high maintenance pet, or study subject, but spirulina has proven to be so. The batch of culture I was growing over the course of this summer was my third spirulina colony. I attempted to grow my first over Christmas break, and I tried a second after returning to school. Both of these died within the month. The first time I naively assumed that an organism that grew wild in lakes across the world, and even in sea water, could survive without the mixing/aeration provided by an aquarium air stone. I also didn’t buy them a heater, since the indoor temperature where I kept them was at the low end of what they are reported to require for growth. This set up resulted in a thin film of algae just under the surface of the water which did not grow and died within a few days. In my second attempt I spoiled the algae with all the requisite niceties, heater and air stone, but the cheap aquarium heater was evidently not up to their standards, or probably any standards. It stopped working after a power outage and the algae froze to death in a cold room.

As you may have guessed, the algae I had been working with this summer died too. Days before I was hoping to construct my fuel cell, I came home from work to discover their tiny bodies on my windowsill. I could tell they are dead because they turn brown and start to smell. After an investigation, I found that the cause of death this time was a heater failure. I had bought another cheap heater for this batch, and when I unplugged it to move the aquarium, the heater reverted to the set temperature display rather than maintaining the temperature I had previously set. This meant it stopped heating the aquarium entirely. Furthermore, I couldn’t see it had done this because there was algae growing on the display screen, covering it. The room in which the algae lived was at minimum 74 degrees F the entire time they were there. This is supposed to be within their acceptable temperature range, but a big takeaway for me is that spirulina are very sensitive to either low temperatures or temperature fluctuations. Anyway, I am over my algae’s death emotionally, and I plan to continue my research into the academic year, armed with more knowledge on keeping algae and a fourth algal culture. I will go more into detail on my future plans for this project, as well as what I can do with what I already have, in my 7th and final update in the coming weeks.