My Bachelor Thesis is based on creating a self-regulating Aquarium. Can you guys help me brainstorm a plan?

BRS

New&no clue

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Alright, youre scaring me now, cause its too late to back out haha.

And to answer your first question, well, the point is that the system needs to be adaptable through software configuration profiles or inputting custom parameters, but to do that, i need to learn the theory behind all this, which is what im stuck on. I dont really know what to research for and in what order or priority.

Some other people mentioned BRS videos which I think is a great start to the overall basics of reef keeping. There is also a set of videos from Red Sea that talk about the chemistry of the water and why it is important that you can check out.

 
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Randy Holmes-Farley

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One of the things that helps keep reef aquariums naturally stable are negative feedback loops. Positive feedback loops, on the other hand, drive things out of control.

Part of a thesis that focused on these and what they mean for a reef tank might be a more interesting thesis project than just describing all the commercially available or potential automated equipment.

 
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jta117

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2 questions....
1.Why would you commit to a thesis about a topic you don’t really understand?
2. Are you going to site the forum as your source for scientific information?
I had to get those out there first. Since you are a mechanical engineer I think books on aquaculture engineering and recirculating aquaculture would be of interest to you. These are for huge system, but the theories are the same. Mechanical, Chemical, and biological filtration and the maintenance of those processes.
You say saltwater aquarium. I would suggest designing fish only if you have to ask what parameters to control.
I hope this doesn’t come across condescending. I really don’t intend for it to. Good Luck.
1. I dont get a choice of topic unfortunately. My professor gives me a couple of options and i choose one. This seemed to be the best out of all the others, since this is the field that i would like to do my masters in (Automation)
2. Probably not, but my professor said it was okay.

And no, that didnt come across condescending and even if it did, honestly, i wouldve taken it well, since im way in over my head here but I want to do my best anyways.
 

Dennis Cartier

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My first Reef tank that I started 30+ years ago was self regulating. It did not start out that way, but it worked out to be that in the end.

I was like 21 when I stumbled on to the hobby. I decided to set up a 90 gallon tank with 2 250W metalhalide lights and live rock flown in from Florida. I had an RODI system filling a 30 gallon Rubbermaid barrel for top off water. This was before the internet, so my only source of info was from 1 magazine that provided into on reef tanks. When the article on kalkwasser came out, I hurried off to Home Depot to buy a big bag of quick lime.

Within the first year and a half or so, I discovered that keeping a reef tank was HARD. I had no peers to talk to, very little info to go on, etc. I could not keep anything alive, there was only a handful or corals available in the hobby at that point, mostly soft, but any that entered my tank perished. Ditto for fish.

So after trying and failing, I gave up. I stopped paying attention to the tank. The tank was still up and running, with the lights turning on at 7 AM every morning. I would awake to the sound of lightning that the self assembled ballasts made and 'feel' the light on my face (the tank was in my bedroom). When the return pump would make a racket sucking air, I would top it up with RODI from the kitchen. That was the extent of my husbandry.

I lost interest in the tank and decided it was 'dead'. After that, the tank never got fed, never had a water change, used the same MH bulbs for 5 years, etc. The front pane became all but opaque with coralline.

Eventually I shut the tank down. Upon looking in to the tank from above, I was amazed to find a thriving ecosystem full of life! Hitchhiking crabs, snails, aiptasia, etc were in abundance. Long ribbons of GHA extended like kelp gardens and the coralline was unbelievable. The rocks were encrusted with layer upon layer of coralline. The side pane facing a window had coralline sheets a 1/4" thick. When the tank dried out the coralline separated from the side pane like a big sheet of pink and purple drywall. I was frankly shocked at how much life was in the tank unbeknownst to me. I felt terrible when I realized I had just destroyed a thriving ecosystem that I never knew existed.

The tank had not been fed, was getting no water changes, had no supplementation, yet all these organisms had both survived and flourished on their own. Self regulating based on the nutrients and elements present in the tank at the point it was placed on cruise control. The only inputs being, RODI top off, circulation through the sump (with a DIY bio-ball filter of course), heat from the heater, and light from the MH units.

So in my view, those are the basic needs. Top off water for evaporation, heat, light and circulation. The rest will be figured out by the tank's biology.

Dennis
 
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capt.dave

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My first Reef tank that I started 30+ years ago was self regulating. It did not start out that way, but it worked out to be that in the end.

I was like 21 when I stumbled on to the hobby. I decided to set up a 90 gallon tank with 2 250W metalhalide lights and live rock flown in from Florida. I had an RODI system filling a 30 gallon Rubbermaid barrel for top off water. This was before the internet, so my only source of info was from 1 magazine that provided into on reef tanks. When the article on kalkwasser came out, I hurried off to Home Depot to buy a big bag of quick lime.

Within the first year and a half or so, I discovered that keeping a reef tank was HARD. I had no peers to talk to, very little info to go on, etc. I could not keep anything alive, there was only a handful or corals available in the hobby at that point, mostly soft, but any that entered my tank perished. Ditto for fish.

So after trying and failing, I gave up. I stopped paying attention to the tank. The tank was still up and running, with the lights turning on at 7 AM every morning. I would awake to the sound of lightning that the self assembled ballasts made and 'feel' the light on my face (the tank was in my bedroom). When the return pump would make a racket sucking air, I would top it up with RODI from the kitchen. That was the extent of my husbandry.

I lost interest in the tank and decided it was 'dead'. After that, the tank never got fed, never had a water change, used the same MH bulbs for 5 years, etc. The front pane became all but opaque with coralline.

Eventually I shut the tank down. Upon looking in to the tank from above, I was amazed to find a thriving ecosystem full of life! Hitchhiking crabs, snails, aiptasia, etc were in abundance. Long ribbons of GHA extended like kelp gardens and the coralline was unbelievable. The rocks were encrusted with layer upon layer of coralline. The side pane facing a window had coralline sheets a 1/4" thick. When the tank dried out the coralline separated from the side pane like a big sheet of pink and purple drywall. I was frankly shocked at how much life was in the tank unbeknownst to me. I felt terrible when I realized I had just destroyed a thriving ecosystem that I never knew existed.

The tank had not been fed, was getting no water changes, had no supplementation, yet all these organisms had both survived and flourished on their own. Self regulating based on the nutrients and elements present in the tank at the point it was placed on cruise control. The only inputs being, RODI top off, circulation through the sump (with a DIY bio-ball filter of course), heat from the heater, and light from the MH units.

So in my view, those are the basic needs. Top off water for evaporation, heat, light and circulation. The rest will be figured out by the tank's biology.

Dennis
I had despaired for you until I read @Dennis Cartier post above. There's your self-regulated aquarium and it's absolutely fascinating.

For most of us, I think our tanks are a piece of living art in our homes. We work really hard and spend a lot of money for them to be as beautiful as we can make them. We study, we learn, we spend. We strive to keep the creatures that add to that beauty healthy and thriving and make life as hostile as possible for creatures that we find ugly or threaten the health of the ones that add beauty. Most of us assumed you'd want one like the ones we want but that's not your goal.

Your goal is a "self regulating aquarium."

Is there a distinction between "self regulating" and "automated?" To me, self regulated means the ecosystem is in equilibrium. We all assumed you meant automated because automation is something most of us use to reduce or eliminate manual tasks we have to do in order to keep our inherently unbalanced ecosystems as stable as possible because that's what the beautiful creatures we favor require. Our ecosystems are unbalanced precisely because we favor some creatures over others. The ocean does not. The ocean is self regulated because it has a complete food chain that starts with the sun, moves up through algae and phytoplankton, bacteria, coral, fish, and even fishermen. The earth's rotation and orbit causes weather and currents that move food, oxygen, and wastes around. The moon's rotation causes tides, which among other things flush wastes off the reef and take them to the deep where biological processes deal with it under great pressure. We take selected pieces of that and put it in a glass box with life support and intentionally unbalance it by favoring only parts of nature. But Dennis's example shows you a clear path to success for your thesis, though probably not the kind of success most of us are going for.

So my suggestion is to minimize automation to only those ocean features you cannot replicate in a tank.
  • Use powerheads to replicate current and tides
  • Use a heater to replicate the sun's warmth
  • Use an auto top off system to replicate rain to complete the water cycle (evaporation from your tank)
  • Use lights on a timer to replicate sunlight for photosynthesis, though you might just rely on sunlight through a window or a skylight
  • Use live rock and live sand from the ocean to kick start the ecosystem. Don't worry about pests, those are part of your self-regulating biome.
  • Look up the Jaubert Method for dealing biologically with waste. Really cool.
  • You'll have to feed the tank at first to get it started, so take a look at @Gp! 's suggestion for automating phytoplankton growth, harvest, and feeding
Then just let it go...life will find a way. At first you might need a microscope to find the life but eventually it will reach equilibrium and be as full of life as Dennis's old tank.

I guess that would be pretty unusual for a mechanical engineering thesis so maybe you did mean automated. There's a lot of automation out there that you can buy and program and put on a tank and I suppose you could reinvent some of that and you'd certainly learn something in the process. You might troll the DIY forums here and on Reef Central. BRS TV's Ultra Low Maintenance tank series on You Tube is all about automation. Watch that. You'll spend a ton of money.

On the other hand, if the goal is self regulating, another term might be ultra efficient. In that case, sunlight, phytoplankton, and Jaubert are really cool. You could even use a solar panel to run the pumps and heater (put a battery on it so it keeps going at night...the ocean does). If you live somewhere windy you could even put a small windmill outside with a Rube Goldberg contraption of some sort to drive the powerhead for "wind driven currents." It doesn't get more self regulated than that.
 
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