We reached an important milestone in the project this afternoon. The power trio of Nathaniel, Rebekah, and Nathan – the core of FLC’s Data Science Club – got the Raspberry Pi installed and working to drive the integrated monitor, displaying a rolling presentation about the science – chiefly the nitrogen cycle – that makes the aquaponics system work.


As with most prototypes, the presentation needs a few tweaks, but it’s great to see all of the system components coming together.

Tweaking the Monitor Rotation

Nathan is working on the Arduino sensor array, and we’re still waiting to swap the science fish with the aquaponics fish, the latter in the quarantine holding tank in the Innovation Center.  The plan is to swap the green arcade button with a blue one, to match the colors in the presentation, and the button subsystem needs some attention, but overall the project is finally starting to feel like it might one day be finished!

Nathaniel, Rebekah and Nathan Contemplating Raspbian

Kathleen Kirklin (FLC’s Interim President) took the robot for a spin in the library other day.

Kathleen Kirklin Drives Robot

I also had the chance to share with Kathleen and Gary Hartely (Dean) progress on the aquaponics project. The plan is to have the screen display some rolling information about the biological and chemical processes in play, interspersed with footage from the live fishcam that will be inside the tank. Pressing the big green arcade button will bring up charts and graphs of the in-tank (temp, pH, electroconductivity) and out-of-tank (temp, humidity, and perhaps one or two others) sensor data.

Robot Observation

Lots to do, but within the next couple of weeks there should be some serious development work on all parts of the project…

Photos courtesy of Tony Humphreys.

Fantastic progress this week on the aquaponics project.  The Theater Arts department finished the display, and FLC Maintenance drilled the holes in the raised floor under the unit, pulled the power and Ethernet, and bolted the whole thing to the floor to make it topple-proof.  FLC’s Data Science club, spearheaded by Nathaniel Adams (student) and Rebekah Keeley (student) have taken responsibility for the technical implementation, including visual and interaction design, front- and back-end Web development, database work, and getting the Raspberry Pi configured and working with the Arduino, which is doing the data gathering.

Meanwhile Taylor Zenobia (student) and Katie Stackhouse (student) have taken charge of the biological systems, selecting the fish species, and arranging the in-tank decor.

Adding Water

They washed and added the sand, rocks, and plants, then carried the water quite a distance from the Innovation Center to the Library. We’ve got inoculated filter media from the Science Fish (they’re currently living in the IC), which should speed up the tank start-up process. Taylor has been regularly monitoring the water, and once the water chemistry is stable, we’ll look at adding the fish, a few at a time.

With the fall show winding down, Cameron and the Theater Arts crew are trying to get the aquaponics system wrapped up, and brought the near-finished display up to the library for a dry-fitting.


I’m told they’ll have it buttoned up within a week, after which all the other work – getting the tank established, setting up and calibrating all the sensors, connecting all that to the network, figuring out the display and the giant “get tank vitals” arcade button – can continue in earnest.

We’re also close to getting the nine tiles for the first pane of the Carvey project finished, inspired by Jeff Solin’s Mosaic Tile project. Nathaniel and Rebekah of FLC’s Data Science Club carved up a version of their club logo to add to the other faculty and student tiles we’ve got so far.

Removing the carved tile.

The plan then is to mill (on the big ShopBot down in Theater Arts) a 3×3 tile “waffle” frame, with recessed wells for each of nine tiles. That will comprise the first of hopefully many such 9-tile collections, as additional faculty, staff and students create their own tiles, and all that work will be on display, either outside or inside of the Innovation Center.

Carvey Totoro


Carving Done


Old cabinets removed from the Innovation Center, which means that hopefully the flooring will be installed soon.


Ian Wallace (Theater Arts) and his crew are making progress on the aquaponics system. Another day or so of work, and we’ll be able to start piecing together the electronics and other systems.


After a rather lengthy pause in the project, owing mostly to institutional rhythms, Cameron Hoyt (formerly a student, now an employee of the college in the Theater Arts Department) and his crew began work on the structural skeleton of the aquaponics display.

Aquaponics Project

Max and I spent some time in the shop this afternoon, brainstorming Chemistry activities that will make use of the new X-Carve and vinyl cutter, and working on the new Ultimaker 2 Extended+ that arrived the other day.  After some tweaking, we got the printer running, and decided to print this Dewalt DWP611 Thread-On Dust Shoe from Thingiverse (CC BY Noah Mackes).  Up until now, we’ve been using the X-Carve as a plotter, but Marisa Sayago (Professor, Art) and I have been talking about some printmaking ideas that involved cutting and engraving, hence the need for the dust shoe.

The printer reported that the job was going to take 17 hours, so Max and I decided to set up a webcam and do some R&D on Open Broadcaster Studio, which I have been considering using for the live fishcam that will be part of the aquaponics project.  We installed the software, plugged in the camera, put in the YouTube live streaming information, and it all worked perfectly right out of the gate.

Streaming Video of Ultimaker 2 Extended+ Printing Parts for an Inventables X-Carve

By the time I got home, the camera had slipped or been knocked sideways, but the print is still visible!

Open Broadcaster Streaming Ultimaker 2 Extended+ Printing a Dust Shoe for an X-Carve to YouTube Live

I’ve been working with technology for many years, but the idea that I can relatively easily monitor from home a 3D print job of a part I need and was able to download for a CNC machine that can be used to support (among other things) hands-on student activities in Chemistry and Art, while simultaneously testing a software program and a streaming service for another project that combines Library, Chemistry, Biology, Theater Arts, fish, and plants is, frankly, pretty neat.

I almost forgot – I made a Voronoi Totoro on the X-Carve (in plotter mode):

Voronoi Totoro

A couple of days ago, in the midst of the x-carve build, a new vinyl cutter arrived.

Vinyl Cutter

I had seen a lab full of them at a recent visit to Portland Community College’s MakerSpace, and Gregg Meyer (coordinator of the space and all-around enthusiastic and generous person) mentioned that they were an inexpensive and useful bit of gear, and quite accessible to makers at all skill levels.

Cameo Vinyl Cutter

We needed a project to put the new machine through its paces, so we decided to label the experimental aquaponics system. The software that comes with the machine is pretty straightforward, and we were able to design and cut out some signage relatively quickly.  After cutting out the letters, we realized we didn’t have any transfer paper, so we made do with blue painter’s tape.

Preparing the Science Fish Sign

The transfer went off without a hitch!

Science Fish!