Build Your Own Bioreactor


A workshop by Angelo Vermeulen and Katherine Moriwaki.
Parsons, Design and Technology, '12.



Algae are a large group of simple, self-feeding organisms, belongs to the ‘Plantae’ kingdom. 

The algae are ranging from unicellular (single-celled) to multicellular forms. Most of the algae types have photosynthetic machinery, and like plants, they absorb carbon dioxide, produce carbohydrate energy for themselves and oxygen as a waste product. They exhibit a wide range of reproductive methods, from simple asexual cell division to complex forms of sexual reproduction.

For the first day of the ‘Build Your Own Bioreactor’ workshop, we were asked to bring water samples mixed with algae from different ponds and waterbodies across NYC. We then marked the source of each sample on a NYC map, practically establishing our own local database of algae whereabouts. Under the microscope lens, we detected different types of algae.

We used a large aquarium as the bioreactor container. We filled it with tap water, and let it ‘breath’ with a simple aquarium aeration device on for an hour. Then, we infected the water with some algae cells.

The algae needs a lot of bright light: it’s crucial to its growth and process of reproduction. We hacked and paired old fluorescent lamps: Two were placed as the container base, two were used for the back and two more lamps were placed on top of the container. Another mean we took to stimulate the algae growth, is adding a little bit of ordinary plant fertilizer to the water (fish waste water will work also). The aquarium aeration was used to assure that the water, meaning, the algae are constantly being shuffled, equally exposing the algae cells to the light.

In less than three weeks the water turned their color from clear to radiant green. An algae culture we’ve created in our own hands.