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Engineering a Low-Stress Aquarium

Pitt Students Create Automated Fish Tank and Donate to South Fayette High School

PITTSBURGH (Aug. 27, 2019) — Little is more soothing than watching a tank of colorful fish gliding through the water, lights dancing off their scales against an auditory background of quietly bubbling water. Dentist’s offices and classrooms know this to be true—aquariums are a popular feature in places where a little soothing relaxation is welcome. However, taking care of an aquarium can be taxing, and the upkeep may be impossible for those with disabilities—the people most likely to benefit from them.

Three recent graduates from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering spent the last year working on a fish tank that would provide a maintenance solution by way of automation. 

Lucas Cerchiaro (MEMS ’19), Sarah Hertzler (MEMS ’19) and Tori Winter (MEMS ’19) finished the automated aquarium, the “AIOquarium,” for their senior design project, but they came up with the idea much earlier. 

“Lucas is our aquarium expert, and he had the idea last spring,” explains Winter. “We built a prototype as part of our mechatronics project, and we’ve been working on it since.”

The tank uses Bluetooth connectivity and an app downloadable on Android devices to automate the heat, light and pump, and synchronize the components. They also installed a controllable valve to empty the water into a sink or receptacle. 

“We had no experience in coding before we started this, or in Bluetooth communication,” says Cerchiaro. “It took a while to get everything working at first.” 

The finished tank and its components have been put through extensive testing to make sure they can run for an extended period. Now, the team will donate the AIOquarium to a local classroom to serve as both a teaching tool and a relaxing classroom fixture.

Brian Garlick, technology education teacher at South Fayette High School in McDonald, Pa., will implement the tank in his classroom. Hertzler was a student of Garlick’s throughout her years at the school, and she partially credits him for her decision to go into engineering.

“He’s one of the reasons I’m here [at Swanson]. I reached out to him and he’s interested in the project,” says Hertzler. “I hope they keep the project going and let students work to improve it, try to inspire someone else like I was inspired.”

In addition to wanting to highlight a former student’s work, Garlick is looking forward to sharing the learning opportunity with his students.

“This aquarium and the innovative technologies applied within it will allow our Computer Science and Engineering students to openly collaborate and impact a real-world situation, with integrated coding and mechanical systems,” he says. “I love the ocean, and water in general. I scuba dive and started an Underwater Robotics club here in the high school. My goal is to try and introduce to our students the wealth of career and job opportunities that exist within the Marine and Oceanography fields.”

Author: Maggie Pavlick

Contact: Maggie Pavlick