Celebrating Hogwarts Back to School in Newport Aquarium’s “Potion” Lab

September 1, 2017 marks nearly two decades from the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where a grown-up Harry Potter sees his own children off to Hogwarts.

In honor of little witches and wizards heading back to Hogwarts today, Newport Aquarium Water Quality Specialist, Cameo VonStrohe shares some “potions” she creates to analyze the water chemistry at the Newport Aquarium.


“You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making. As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses.”

— Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


Just as potions are important in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, chemistry, science, and water quality are important here at Newport Aquarium. Now, from our own Harry Potter fan, and “Water Wizard,” here’s a look at how everyday chemistry works in the potions water lab.

Hello. I am Cameo VonStrohe, the Water Quality Specialist for the Newport Aquarium. Thanks for joining me today. I thought I’d share some potions – that’s reagents for you muggles.test tubes

But first, let’s talk about the nitrogen cycle and why testing is important.

Ammonia produced by the fish in their waste, uneaten food, and decaying plant matter all contribute to ammonia levels which is quite toxic to fish (think cruciatus curse or worse).

However, there are necessary, beneficial bacteria living in the tanks that convert the ammonia (NH3) to a less toxic form of nitrogen, nitrite (NO2), and then to an even less toxic form, nitrate (NO3).  With proper filtration/life support systems and maintenance by our biologists and engineers, the bacteria is kept in check.  To ensure all these components are working properly and the fishes’ environment is healthy, I run a gamut of tests.  NH3, NO2, and NO3 are three of my top five tests performed a minimum of once a week on every tank in the aquarium and including our Offsite Animal Health Facility.

Time for Potions:

One ingredient in the ammonia test set-up is alkaline citrate, which I’m currently running low on.  So first, you need to don PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) including robes lab coat, goggles, and gloves.  Safety first!  Review your recipe and prep your lab bench with the supplies.

Potions Day

“Potions Day” is my favorite day in the lab!

The dry chemicals are weighed out on a scale and distilled water is measured in a volumetric flask – precision matters.

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Add a magnetic stir bar to the “glass cauldron” and place the beaker on a stirrer plate.  Mix to dissolve and like magic, the solution turns from milky white to clear.  Now the reagent is ready and it’s time to tidy up the laboratory.

ALWAYS keep your lab space clean and organized and you will have a very content Professor Snape.

Preparing the samples for testing:

sample bottles

To the right of the sample bottles are smaller containers called “cuvettes,” with the pink tinted coloring. These are for the nitrite testing.

The red test tube rack holds samples for the ammonia test.  Both of these will be tested on a spectrophotometer located in the fume hood.

spectrophotometer

The spectrophotometer (on the left) is a scientific instrument that measures the absorbance of light at specific wavelengths.

For each test, light (Lumos!) is passed through the sample where the amount of light absorbed/how much is transmitted is measured.  The machine puts a value to that measure and this is the data that I review.

Reviewing data

Reviewing test data for a new, improved nitrate test option.

For the Hermione types out there, you probably are curious as to the other two tests in the Top 5…These are salinity (tested with a refractometer) and pH (tested on a benchtop meter). Both are also highly important parameters to maintain for fish health and we can discuss those next time.

Thanks for letting me have a little fun with this post and joining me in the lab.  I wish you all a great school year!

#Hufflepuff

 

 

 

Help Protect the Earth on Earth Day and Every Day

As we get ready to celebrate Earth Day, here are some things you can do to help protect the Earth. The National Ocean Service put together this list 0f 10 choices you can make for a healthier planet.Earth Day NOAA

Living with less plastic
Reduce the amount of reusable plastic in the world. According to a recent report, by the year 2050, there will be more plastics in our ocean than fish. Small changes over time add up to a big difference, especially when using plastic.Less Plastic

Protecting endangered animals
When guests visit Newport Aquarium, not only do they get to see amazing animals, but they also get to learn about how to help those animals and their environment. Newport Aquarium and other AZA accredited zoo and aquariums work to protect some of the world’s most endangered animals in their facilities.

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Nearly all species of sea turtle are classified as Endangered. Newport Aquarium is a part of a sea turtle rehabilitation program, to rescue and release baby sea turtles back in to the wild.

Aquariums allow for people to see and interact with animals that they never would get the chance to normally. Aquariums also give a chance of a close and personal interaction with animals that can allow for guests to develop a special connection and help develop a passion to protect the animals and their environment.

Importance of Water
Newport Aquarium hopes to educate people about the importance of water and about the everyday things they can do to help protect our oceans, planet, and animals. A “Water Story” sign welcomes guests to exhibits. Guests can discover diverse ecosystems, the source of our planet’s water and threats to the world’s water as they visit.

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The World Rivers exhibit allows for guest to learn about a highest density and diversity of nine different rivers from five different continents.

Newport Aquarium also strives to improve water quality and conservation efforts to help the aquatic life in both ocean and fresh water environments all over the planet. Learn more in our World Water Day post.

Learn to love sea life
Through education; you will grow to appreciate ocean and marine life and take a more caring and careful approach to all things oceanic. A great way to do this is to visit local aquariums and AZA institutions, like Newport Aquarium.

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Overhead view of the Coral Reef, guests can see on a behind-the-scenes tour at Newport Aquarium.

Reduce plastic
Stop one time plastic. Plastic bottles, straws and containers are dangerous for the environment. Try to use reusable products as much as you can. Whether it is water bottles, tuber wear containers, or reusable straws, using these items help cut down on the use on one time plastics. This in return, can reduce the amount of harmful plastic found in wildlife.

Always recycle
Recycling helps to reduce the pollution caused by waste. Try to make full use of the recycling depots in your local area.

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Volunteer and Donate
Volunteer to clean up local rivers and beach areas. Join thousands of volunteers at this year’s ORSANCO River Sweep, and clean up the Ohio River, its tributaries and riverbanks on June 17, 2017.  Volunteer with the WAVE Foundation  to excite, engage and educate our community about the wonders of aquatic life and the importance of conservation.

Most of us want to make a difference and do something good for the planet. Earth Day is the perfect time to reflect and see what we can do to protect our planet.

 

World Water Day at Newport Aquarium

NEWPORT, Ky– Today is World Water Day!

World Water Day was created in 1993 and is coordinated by UN Water—the United Nation’s branch concerning all issues related to freshwater. The day is meant to spread awareness about freshwater and to encourage actions to ensure safe water for everyone—including fish!

Here at Newport Aquarium, water is a huge part of what we do. In fact, we have more than one million gallons of water here in our tanks!

Water Story

We share a “Water Story,” with signs welcoming guests to exhibits. Guests will go on a “journey” of sorts, as they discover diverse ecosystems, the source of our planet’s water and threats to the world’s water.

When guests visit, they learn about the important role they play in conservation and helping keep our water clean. They’ll also learn what we can do to help preserve our most precious resource – water.

Let’s take a behind-the-scenes look at how we make that water safe for our marine animals.

Water Recipes from around the World

One million gallons is a lot of water! And our animals can’t just live in any old water.

According to Cameo VonStrohe, Water Quality Specialist at Newport Aquarium, “It really is ‘world water’ here at the aquarium. We have animals from all over the world, so we have to mimic water from all over the world!”

Cameo

Water Quality Specialist Cameo VonStrohe started at Newport Aquarium as an intern in 1999, while studying biology with a minor in chemistry at NKU. She didn’t always know she wanted to work in the water lab of an aquarium—although animals were always part of the equation! She first dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, but eventually discovered that she loved the laboratory.

How do we do this? It’s a process! First, when the city water comes in, it gets filtered through carbon to take out things we don’t want in our water—chemicals that are added for people, like fluoride and chlorine.

Then we break out our water “recipes” to match each aquatic environment that our animals represent. Our biologists and engineers make our saltwater using a unique recipe that includes sodium chloride (better known as table salt!) and nine other salts.

Filtration systems and weekly testing keep the water clean and safe for both animals and divers.

Testing the Waters

VonStrohe tests water from all of the tanks at the aquarium in the Water Quality Laboratory at least once a week. She conducts what she calls a “full run” of four tests on each water sample:  salinity, pH, ammonia, and nitrite.

Refractometer and pH Test HM

To test for salinity—the amount of salt in the water—VonStrohe uses an instrument called a refractometer, which looks like a small telescope and uses light and a tiny scale inside to measure the amount of salt in each water sample. pH testing measures how acidic or basic a water sample is. VonStrohe uses the results of the tests to adjust the tanks to suit each animal.

The goals for each test vary by tank, because each tank simulates a different aquatic environment from around the world. For example, the big 385,000 gallon saltwater shark tank has salinity levels mimicking the ocean, and requires a pH of above 8. But in the Shore Gallery, the water is brackish, meaning it’s a mixture of fresh and saltwater.

In nature, the nitrogen cycle transforms toxic ammonia created from animal waste to nitrite and then to nitrate thanks to the help of some good bacteria. “Everyone thinks bacteria are so horrible,” VonStrohe said, “but they are actually essential to keeping animals healthy!”

Water Lab

Ammonia is created naturally by animals, but it’s toxic to them. The water samples in these test tubes turn different colors depending on their ammonia levels. VonStrohe uses these results to adjust the water going into the tanks.

In an aquarium, this cycle is helped along by people like VonStrohe and machines like the shark tank’s denitrification unit. This machine has three big tubs where tank water is cycled through different chemical reactions that eat up nitrites. Then the machine returns the water to safe levels before sending it back into the tank.

Nitrite Test

VonStrohe conducts four different tests on water samples from all of the aquarium’s tanks each week. One of these is to test for nitrite in the water. “The more pink the sample turns, the more nitrite is present!” she said.

Sometimes, VonStrohe performs more involved testing on the water. Microbiology tests check for tiny organisms and bacteria, and a machine called the atomic absorption spectrometer uses an open flame and beams of light to measure the levels of certain elements in the water.

Spec 2 Water Lab

This atomic absorption spectrometer uses light and an open flame to measure the levels of elements in the water samples. VonStrohe likes to tell people that this is the same type of machine that is used on crime shows like NCIS!

 World Water all year round

Here at Newport Aquarium, it’s World Water Day every day of the year!

A lot of behind-the-scenes water testing, filtering, and cleaning is done by our dedicated staff to ensure our aquatic friends from around the world feel right at home here in Newport, Kentucky.

Cameo Water Lab

All of our water is filtered with carbon and specially made using a recipe of salts to match water environments from around the world!