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WonderLab Hosting Event To Open New Aquarium
Updated June 15, 2017 6:56 AM
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(BLOOMINGTON) - WonderLab Museum of Science, Health and Technology will open its new exhibit "Wonder Under the Waves: Coral Reef Aquarium" at this weekend's Family Science Night, 6-8 p.m. Saturday at the museum, 308 W. Fourth St.

During this special family evening, science guests will dive into a one-of-a-kind underwater adventure and will encounter hands-on experiences with live ocean creatures.

Event tickets are $10/person for members and $12/person for non-members.

"Family Science Night is a one of kind, one time event with all things related to the ocean," said Karen Jepson Innes, WonderLab Executive Director. "It is truly a one time, can't miss it event."

Ticket holders will get to experiment with the chemistry behind glowing fish and fluorescent coral, use a virtual reality headset to explore a coral reef, play with an amazing slime made out of sand and make an "ocean in a bottle" to take home. Visitors will engage in activities to learn about ocean communities, conservation, and the colorful inhabitants of coral reefs. Through it all guests will learn about Indiana's ancient ocean past though examination of fossils, talk to experts about underwater exploration and SCUBA diving. Children who explore all the amazing experiences will receive a special prize.

"Family Science Night is a perfect example of how WonderLab approaches science education: the activities connect children and families with real science tools, real scientists, and accurate science facts," said Emmy Brockman, WonderLab Education Director. "We design activities with the recognition that children have diverse learning styles and preferences and that children of different ages learn in different ways. We have hands-on squishy learning for our youngest visitors, and in-depth explorations designed to intrigue even the expert. At WonderLab we recognize that children learn the most from those who they have the closest relationships with, so families are always encouraged to explore and engage together."

Evening activities include:

  • Ocean Creature Touch Tank: Get up close and personal with real live ocean critters
  • Archaeology Under the Waves: How do scientists study shipwreck and also protect fragile coral reefs ecosystems?
  • Ocean in a Bottle: Use the science behind the properties of oil and water to create a beautiful ocean in a bottle.
  • Sand Slime: Dig your hands into an amazing sensory experience!
  • Pollution Solution: Even the smallest person can change the world
  • Underwater Robot: Learn how robots navigate under water!
  • Luminescent Life: Learn the chemistry behind "glowing fish."
  • Fossil Clues: What was the environment like in Indiana millions of years ago?
  • Virtual Coral Reef: Explore a coral reef without getting wet!
  • Family Science Night: Wonder Under the Waves is sponsored by Griffin Realty. Treats from Pizza X, Lucky's Market and special cookies from Baked! of Bloomington will be available in the "Under the Waves Cafe".

"We are so grateful that these community-minded, local businesses understand the importance of family-friendly events at WonderLab," said Mallory Elver, WonderLab Annual Giving and Stewardship Manager. "Because of these businesses' heartfelt support, Family Science Night will truly provide a one-of-a-kind evening for children and families."

Program Partners for the Family Science Night Event event are Beth and Rudy Raff, Indiana University Department of Biology; the Indiana University Center for Underwater Science; and The Quadrangles- SeaPerch Robotics Team Bloomington High School South.

The Birth of An Ecosystem

In 2014 museum staff made the decision to dismantle and remove the original gallery fish tank that had been a WonderLab favorite.

"The previous tank had reached a point where it needed to be completely overhauled," said Michael Lindeau,

WonderLab Exhibits Manger. But the aquarium was so popular with museum visitors that staff wondered if something similar might take its place. The exhibits team visited Morgan Lidster, Aquarium Specialist at Inland Aquatics in Terre Haute. Upon seeing Lidster's work with small sustainable ecosystems the idea for new saltwater tank exhibit was born.

In late April 2017, after three years of planning and fundraising, WonderLab quietly welcomed the 300-gallon saltwater coral reef aquarium to the museum's second-floor exhibit space. Animal Exhibits Manager, Sam Couch, has been the main coordinator for both the installation and maintenance of the three hundred gallon saltwater tank.

"The tank has been viewable to museum visitors since the beginning," said Couch. "Building an ecosystem takes time in nature and is fascinating science. Inviting visitors to watch this process here is a unique experience provided by WonderLab."

The building process started when the museum closed on April 30 with a nearly 48-hour build that included three tanks, all mechanicals and the first introduction of living biological elements such as living sand, starter corals and a few fish. The entire system is being built slowly with new animals introduced every three weeks until mid-July.

According to Couch, the primary distinction between WonderLab's coral reef aquarium and a standard saltwater tank is the natural environment and the self-sustaining feature. The system has three significant components: the 300-gallon main tank, the 25-gallon-refugium tank, and the Algal Turf Scrubber (ATS) developed by Morgan Lidster from Inland Aquatics.

The ATS is a dump-bucket, water cleaning method using naturally occurring algae for cleaning. Water circulates between the three components creating an ocean-like atmosphere. This is achieved by generating multiple currents from different sources, one being a circular current from a pump and one coming from the dump action of the ATS. This multi-current system more closely mimics the unpredictability of natural ocean currents. Organisms within each of the components perform all cleaning and filtration, bacteria and algae process all toxins. This also allows for less frequent water changes, as the tank will require a full water change only every ten years.

Currently, the exhibit contains nearly thirty species of fish, coral, and various invertebrate from the Indo-Pacific region such as Bubble Tipped Anemone, Fire Shrimp, Fancy Brittle Stars, Clownfish, Green Chromis, Elongate Mbuna, and the Magnificent-Foxface-Rabbitfish. Upon completion in mid-July the tank is expected to contain more than sixty different species.

The Wonder Under the Waves: Coral Reef exhibit is unique to Bloomington with its complexity, multi-tier ecosystem, and self-sustaining cleaning. The reef offers insights to a variety of sciences ranging from marine biology to climate science and conservation efforts.

Wonderlab encourages hands-on engagement with the aquarium through the Dive Deeper Series scheduled every weekend: Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and again on Sundays at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Dive

Deeper is a thirty-minute gallery "chat" which includes topics of marine life, coral reefs, and conservation. The series also provides phases that include touch, where children can literally grasp marine life. Actual pieces of coral and seashells will be distributed, along with hermit crabs and other species.

"This helps landlocked people get exposure to our oceans," said Couch. "We are trying to connect Indiana's prehistoric past with modern-day sea life. The exhibit allows children to further develop their understanding of reef life and engage in marine biology," said Gallery Operations Director, Mike Voyles.

Coral reef ecosystems offer a wide variety of educational opportunities for every age level. Along with daily observation WonderLab members and visitors can expect to learn much more over the coming years. Topics range from sustainability/water as life, ecosystems and complex systems, environmentalism, marine biology and hands-on exposure to organisms.

Self-sustainability is a major theme. The tank itself is self-sustaining by way of the innovative algae scrubber system.

This is reinforced by the recycling and self-producing nature of ecosystems. Basically the ATS system allows the tank to house a greater number of living organisms. The average aquarium can only house a limited number of fish because feeding so many organisms creates excessive waste. This waste contaminates the water making the entire system toxic. The ATS scrubber mimics nature; it uses a wave and algae system which constantly moves the water (imagine a tide pool) through the various levels.

The final introduction of live animals is scheduled to take place on Friday, July 14 during museum open hours. Visitors are invited to watch the process and ask questions. Other plans for the exhibit include interactive educational materials, scheduled live animal demonstrations, and a redesigned coral reef inspired exhibit area.

A Community Effort
"When we announced that WonderLab was installing a new coral reef aquarium exhibit, we saw a remarkable outpouring of support from the community," said Elver. "Our 2016 spring fundraising campaign and a few key grants made this exhibit a reality.

Wonder Under the Waves would not be at the museum without the genuine enthusiasm and compassion from individual donors."

Major funders for the building, installation and maintenance of the coral reef exhibit include: Andrew D. Bacher, Brabson Library and Educational Foundation, Duke Energy Foundation, and an anonymous Friend of WonderLab.
Purchase tickets for Family Science Night: Wonder Under the Waves at the museum or on-line at Ticket prices are $10/person for members and $12/person for non-members. Proceeds from the event will continue to support Wonderlab's hands-on-science experiences. Tickets are limited.

WonderLab is an award-winning science center at 308 W. Fourth St. on the B-Line Trail. The museum is open to the public 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday. General admission is $8. Children younger than the age of one are free.

For more, call 812-337-1337, ext. 25, or go online to or WonderLab's Facebook page.

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