Aquaponics Students at the Leading Edge of Discovery

July 24, 2015

Most undergraduate students expect their research to have a small impact on their field. However, students enrolled in a new experiential learning class, HORT 4601 — Aquaponics: Integrated fish and plant food systems — are already making strides in aquaponics. In this annual spring semester course, led by several instructors including Horticultural Science Professor Neil Anderson, students designed research projects that address real problems posed by industry professionals.

Aquaponics is a budding industry in Minnesota, having grown in popularity among small businesses, greenhouses and enthusiasts since the early 1990s. “It’s a fusion of two production systems, hydroponics and aquaculture,” explained Neil Anderson. “And ultimately this fusion is more beneficial for both.” In this system the waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic animals supplies nutrients for plants grown hydroponically that in turn purify the water. Because the industry is so new, research on aquaponic systems is sparse. This means that undergraduate students can make a big impact on the field even in a single semester. “The students are at the forefront of discovery,” said Anderson.

The combination of plants and animals in this system drew students of varied majors and backgrounds to the class, and each group tailored a research project to meet their interests. Just a few of the projects completed in 2015 looked at the cost-benefit analysis of heating fish tanks, food safety hazards between systems, and the effect of different lights on plants. “The class was really beneficial,” said Lindsey Miller (B.S. Horticulture, ’15). “There is a lot of diversity in the backgrounds of the students and the teachers, and that helped us all to learn more.” Designing their own research project helped students to understand both the trials of performing research in real world and the satisfaction of completing a project that they have invested significant time and effort into.

Students presented their work to over 100 attendees at the first annual Aquaponics in Minnesota conference (displayed at the top of the page) and wrote research papers detailing their methods and results. To read more about the projects completed as part of the class, visit the U of M Aquaponics website at