Marine Life on Mars

Made by Hetian Cao, Maximilien Stein and Mark Vella

To create a hydroponic closed loop system with shrimp and algae.

Created: February 15th, 2016


Peculative Proposal / Conceptual Design: 

Our original vision was to create a closed loop system with shrimp and algae. The shrimp would produce CO2 and the algae would consume the CO2 and create O2 for the shrimp. In theory the system should have been able to work for some prolonged amount of time. We imagined a very simple underwater garden.


We basically created somewhat of a smart fish tank environment. We wired a temperature and humidity sensor that collect data and help to monitor our environment from the outside. Inside our habitat, we secured a water heater and filter to the wall with a suction cup to help manage the water temperature and movement.



We were especially inspired by Jacob Douenias and Ethan Frier’s art installation at The Mattress Factory as well as Mike Thompson’s Latro Lamp.

We chose to explore the power of algae in preserving a closed system as well as supporting other living things at the same time. We wanted our algae to be more than an independent variable in our system, it’s also a medium that brings the ecosystem together, including the exchange of air inside the water, between water and air, and being the food of living creatures in the water. The algae also serves in providing and preserving nutrition for hydroponic plants at the same time.


Originally our plan was to create an entirely hydroponic environment for the underwater plants and shrimp to thrive in. We filled our habitat almost to the very top with water, leaving only enough space for the filter to be above the water in order to ensure water movement around the tank. In our next iteration of the project, we decided that we would need to remove some of the water in the tank in order to suspend some of our sensors within the habitat for data collection.



In order to keep a living organism alive, even as simple as a shrimp, it takes filtering water, heating the water to a specific temperature, helpful bacteria for purifying the water, and water conditioner.

Due to technological inhibitors we were not able to make our environment a vacuum sealed closed loop system. We also couldn’t manage to keep all of our shrimp alive for more than a day. If we can have more time and more iterations we would focus our efforts on changing the proportion of water, air, and nutrition elements in the system as well as coming up with a more permanent housing for the sensors within the habitat.

Open Questions and Challenges:

1. How do we quantify the exchange of living elements underwater? How do we effectively use the data of the sensors to adjust the design and keep the ecosystem in a positive cycle?

2. What caused our shrimp to die so quickly?


[1] What is the difference between pleco & algae eaters?

[2] Top 5 Algae Eaters for the Planted Aquarium

[3] Amano Shrimp Care, Feeding, Algae Eating, Size, Lifespan

[4] Algae Problem in your Fishtank? Find out Which Species Really Eat Algae

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48-528 Responsive Mobile Environments

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In Spring 2016, this course was offered in conjunction with 62492 ’Mars Habitat: Building an Atmosphere’ with Christina Ciardullo. Together these two courses explored going to Mars from compleme...more

Focused on

To create a hydroponic closed loop system with shrimp and algae.