Miniature Sealed Self-Sustaining Ecosystem

By Anupum Pant
  1. 53 years ago, David Latimer (80) from Surrey planted an indoor Spiderwort in a huge glass globular bottle. He has watered it just once, in the year 1972. Since then, this self-sustaining ecosystem, has been sealed away from the outside world for around 40 years. In spite of being sealed away like that, the plant has grown very well in its own miniature ecosystem [Picture]. The only regular external energy it has received has been in the form of light. [more about this self-sustaining ecosystem and how it works]
  2. The EcoSphere or the Original EcoSphere takes it to the next level by introducing a shrimp in a similar setting. Like David Latimer’s bottle, this is also a self-sustaining ecosystem consisting of algae, bacteria and shrimp. The company that sells these things says that the shrimps would last for just around 10 years. Although, they also claim of 25-year-old spheres with living shrimps.
    10 years is little as compared to the ecosystem discussed in the first point. But we are talking about a pet living in a completely sealed space for 10 years, without demanding food, change of water or an appointment with the vet. For these little creatures it is probably a safe haven away from the dirty oil slicked oceans and predators; or probably just a prison.

These little biospheres are a far simpler and smaller versions of our big worlds. We are like the shrimp and the trees, our algae. This diagram explains in a simple way, how these artificial, extremely simplified versions of Earth work – [Diagram]

The shrimp and algae biospheres were discovered by two scientists, the late Dr. Joe Hanson and the late Dr. Clair Folsome. Later, NASA became interested in these systems. There got interested because:

  1. This tiny model of the Earth could add information to NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth program for studying Earth’s biosphere.
  2. It could help NASA’s research on human life support systems directed toward the construction of space stations for exploring our solar system.

Make it for yourself: Make magazine published a detailed DIY guide on how to create these living biospheres at home. [Link] Carl Sagan’s Review of these biospheres: The World Arrived in The Mail.

Random Foliage Fact:

The world’s smallest park is located in the¬†median strip of SW Naito Parkway, approaching esplanade along the Willamette River near SW Taylor Street in downtown Portland, Oregon, United States. Mill Ends Park, a 2 ft is a circular park, has held a place in the Guinness book of Records since 1971. It isn’t a park you can send your children to. – [Wikipedia]

Hot Ice

By Anupum Pant

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For years we’ve been subconsciously conditioned to think of something cool when the word ‘ice’ is heard. But, does ice always has to be cool? How much more interesting, than water-ice, can ice be?

What is it?

The name: Hot ice isn’t solidified water, it isn’t anything even close to water. Neither is hot ice, hot. It is just a common name for Sodium Acetate Trihydrate. At room temperature, this substance looks like ice crystals and if heated, it starts turning into a transparent liquid. Since, the ice like crystals are formed at a relatively hotter temperature than water-ice, it is called hot ice.

Everything freezes. While metals ‘freeze’ at extremely high temperatures and carbon dioxide freezes at extremely low temperature, Sodium acetate freezes at 54 degrees centigrade. But, that is hardly anything interesting about it. There is more.

Touch water and turn it to ice

Think about water: Cooling water, beyond its freezing point without it getting solidified, can be done and it is called ‘super-cooling‘. This can be done by not letting water (distilled water) find any ‘nucleation points’ or simply by using an extremely clean tray to freeze it. Now, water remains in a liquid state despite being cooled under 0 degree centigrade. At such a state, if water is disturbed, say using your finger, a chain reaction starts and the water freezes almost instantly. But, doing it is tough.

Making hot ice at home РThe same thing that happens with super-cooled water, can happen with sodium acetate. Touch the liquid sodium acetate and it magically turns to ice, it is indeed a fascinating process to watch (watch in the video below). And can be done fairly easily. Moreover, you are not at a danger of getting poisoned in any way. This is the reason it is used to make hot ice. It can be made at home using vinegar, baking soda and a steel vessel.