Every year I challenge my class to research, design and build a self-sustaining mesocosm.
A mesocosm is an ecosystem in micro, the abiotic and biotic elements sealed together behind glass. This is the kind of research needed to facilitate a human colony on Mars. This is the kind of research that led to the understanding of how global warming causes coral reefs to dissolve (Biosphere 2).
A variety of models appear every year, including aquatic, semi-aquatic and terrestrial. After a month of carefully making observations, and adjustments, the mesocosm is closed. Nervous students continue to collect data and check on their mesocosms daily, hoping that all is well. Normally, it isn’t.
Something causes the ecosystem to break down, necessitating the termination of the project and the rescue of the biotic component. Mesocosms are hard to get right, even if you do your homework.
One group of students decided to replicate the understory of the tropical rainforest that surrounds the school. This simple formula was not fully appreciated by their colleagues. But that was in November of 2019. No one is laughing now. Their understory mesocosm has broken every record, and here we are in 2023 – the ecosystem is still going strong.
The idea for this project came from a student student (now alumni) by the name of Rodrigo Nepomuceno. His mother works for the institution where I work, and I invited her this week to visit the science department and view the record breaking mesocosm for herself.
It was a proud moment for everyone involved!