Participants were taken to the New Jersey State Aquarium for a half day field trip. Drs’ Jahan, Sernak and Jennifer Kadlowec accompanied the participants. The objective of this field trip was to have participants identify the engineering behind the operation, maintenance and design of an aquarium. An aquarium is an exquisite combination of interacting systems which can be analyzed using multidisciplinary engineering and scientific principles. Children typically have personal aquariums for their pet fishes and visit some large aquarium as part of a school field trip or as part of their family outing. Movies such as Disney-Pixar’s “Finding Nemo”, Epcot’s Living Seas also make tremendous impact on a young audience. While these activities apparently raise the knowledge base in terms of nature and the environment, children seldom make a connection to the engineering principles playing out in the maintenance of a natural, commercial or personal aquarium.
Teachers were specifically instructed to first reflect on topics that they would have identified without knowing anything about engineering. Then they were asked to reflect on how the aquarium field trip could be used to expose students to engineering.
Topics that are typically exposed to students during such a trip included species, biodiversity, pollution prevention of marine environments, predator organisms, ecosystems etc.
Teachers recognized that maintenance of water quality and water treatment in aquariums is a major contribution of engineering. They further identified that gas transfer was a major mechanism for maintaining correct dissolved oxygen temperatures in the water. Pumping systems, design of the shark tunnel and the 4-D children’s ride also stimulated discussion on connecting engineering to a fun field trip.