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.


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!





International Plastic Bag Free Day 2017

July 3rd marks International Plastic Bag Free Day. Today signifies the ability for the world to come together and create an environment that is plastic free and educating individuals about current alternatives to plastics and other wastes.

Sea Turtle and Plastic Bag

Did you know? About 80% of marine litter is plastic. This constant influx of litter and waste on a marine environment can have negative effects for the animals living there.

Today of all days, it is important to realize that anyone can help to make a difference in the environment. We hope the tips below will help you on your way to being a true advocate for marine wildlife preservation.

IMG_2774 (2)

Last year, Wave Foundation volunteers collected 95 bags of trash plus tires, and more along the Ohio River bank during Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) #RiverSweep

5 Ways to be a Marine Wildlife Advocate

  1. Make the Switch Away from Plastics
    • Small things like buying fresh and local products that avoid individual packaging and bulk packaging can be extremely beneficial. Bring your own cloth reusable bag to any store you shop at to avoid using plastic bags. Invest in a reusable water bottle, and help lower the amount of plastic bottles that end up in our oceans!  Shark Bridge swag
  2. Get Out There and Join in the Collective Effort
  3. Respect Marine Life
    • One of the best ways to gain a greater appreciation of wildlife and wildlife preservation is through education. Newport Aquarium is not only an exciting day of adventure but can also teach you a lot about different animal species and what the scientific community is doing to protect some of those species.
  4. Contact Local Officials
    • If you see an issue with a local body of water, say something. Remember your voice is important in making change in the world. Even if it is just a polluted creek, you never know where that debris could end up or what kind of wildlife could be affected.
  5. Spread the Word
    • Now that you know a little bit more about what you can do to make a difference, tell someone else. Reach out to family. Invite friends to join you in the next river sweep. Each person that is informed and that gets involved brings the world one step closer to creating a safer environment for our beloved aquatic animals.


North Pacific Gyre Garbage Patch

Trash islands in North Pacific Gyre. Photo Credit: Mario Aguilera / Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Around 1 million plastic bags are in use around the world every minute. On average, each of those bags will only be used for about 25 minutes. Once those plastics end out in nature it will take 100-500 years to disintegrate depending on the plastic.





To learn more visit: Newport Aquarium and WAVE Foundation

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One Aquarium Way | Newport, KY 41071 | 859-261-7444

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!”


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!




WAVE Foundation at Newport Aquarium to test public’s water knowledge at Water for Life event

Water For Life

The WAVE Foundation at Newport Aquarium will be one of 26 educational booths at the Water for Life event on Sunday, July 26, located just outside the Aquarium at the Newport on the Levee plaza.

NEWPORT, Ky. — Guests can meet an alligator and test their water knowledge through the WAVE Foundation, Newport Aquarium’s nonprofit partner, during the second annual Water for Life event on Sunday, July 26, located at the Newport on the Levee plaza and Riverboat Row.

“Newport Aquarium, as well as our partners at the WAVE Foundation, strives to promote the importance of water conservation and water quality every day,” said Chris Pierson, operations director at Newport Aquarium, which in April received an Earth Day Award from the Kentucky Environmental Quality Commission for featuring a “Water Story” throughout its exhibits. “The Water for Life event aligns with our water-conservation message and provides a fun opportunity to engage the community about the water story.”

Water for life flyer_finalA free event open to the public, Water for Life runs from 2-5 p.m. and will feature food, games and nearly 30 educational booths with interactive and fun ways for people of all ages to celebrate our most precious resource, water, while highlighting the importance and value of water conservation and quality.

Water samples from Newport Aquarium’s Shark and Amazon tanks, as well as from the Ohio River, will be set up at the WAVE Foundation booth, where guests can guess the source of the samples based on pH, salinity and temperature.

Additionally, Newport Aquarium’s Garry the gator will greet guests from the WAVE Foundation booth throughout the event.

Garry the gator

Kids who pick up a booth passport upon their arrival at Water for Life can get their passport stamped each time they complete an activity at a booth. Once a booth passport is completed, kids can earn a free snow cone from Kona Ice, along with other prizes.

Inflatable Slide

Similar to last year’s Water for Life event in Chattanooga, Tenn., this year’s Water for Life event in Newport, Ky., will feature an inflatable slide.

In addition to the nearly 30 interactive booths, Water for Life will include an inflatable slide and a water tasting competition.

Water for Life kicks off the 2015 Kentucky-Tennessee Water Professionals Conference, which runs from July 26-29, when approximately 1,500 water professionals will gather in Northern Kentucky to learn and network about water issues affecting the customers and communities they serve. The Northern Kentucky Water District and Sanitation District No. 1 are the conference’s co-hosts.

For more information on Newport Aquarium, visit NewportAquarium.com or call toll free 800-406-FISH (3474). To learn more about the WAVE Foundation, visit wavefoundation.org.


Newport Aquarium has showcased thousands of animals from around the world in a million gallons of water since May 15, 1999. Named one of the best aquariums in the U.S. by Travel Channel and USA Today, Newport Aquarium is a Herschend Family Entertainment company and an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky jewel attraction is home to: The world’s first and only Shark Bridge; the world’s first Shark Ray Breeding Program; Mighty Mike – the biggest and baddest American alligator outside the state of Florida; the largest and most diverse collection of sharks in the Midwest; and one of the world’s largest and most diverse penguin exhibits. Newport Aquarium is open to the public 365 days a year and is located across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati at Newport on the Levee.

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One Aquarium Way | Newport, KY 41071 | 859-261-7444