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Students Get Schooled by Schools of Fish

Posted by Damon Thompson, Communications Director, Research, Education, and Economics in Research and Science
Feb 21, 2017
USDA Under Secretary Cathie Woteki reviews the hydroponic garden at Food and Finance High School in New York City, which is fed nutrients from sediment collected in Dr. Warner’s basement fish tanks and pumped up four floors to the garden.
USDA Under Secretary Cathie Woteki reviews the hydroponic garden at Food and Finance High School in New York City, which is fed nutrients from sediment collected in Dr. Warner’s basement fish tanks and pumped up four floors to the garden.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Schools of fish may be common things to see, but watching some fish school high school students from a basement in Manhattan’s West Side is a different experience altogether. Cathie Woteki, USDA’s Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics, observed such a program recently during a visit to Food and Finance High School in New York.

There on West 50th Street, Cornell University operates laboratories that represent the latest in scientific technology to raise fresh, clean fish in addition to garden produce in a sustainable urban setting. Renowned Cornell scientist and educator Philson Warner developed a system for continuously re-circulating and reconditioning water to raise more than 10,000 tilapia and other fish at a time in the basement lab. The nutrient-rich water from the fish is then transferred to a hydroponic garden located a few floors up on campus. That garden produces nine types of lettuce, Chinese cabbage such as bok choi, and a variety of herbs that include sweet basil, oregano, thyme and parsley. The plants then clean the water, which is sent back to the fish.

Cornell University scientist and educator Philson Warner shows USDA Under Secretary Cathie Woteki his system of nutrient-enriched fish tanks in which he raises 10,000 tilapia at a time from the basement of Food and Finance High School in Manhattan.
Cornell University scientist and educator Philson Warner shows USDA Under Secretary Cathie Woteki his system of nutrient-enriched fish tanks in which he raises 10,000 tilapia at a time from the basement of Food and Finance High School in Manhattan.

Food and Finance High School is a specialized institution that offers its students a hands-on introduction to the restaurant business and food industry. As a part of that experience, student interns spend 4 to 8 hours a week working as lab technicians in Dr. Philson’s facility, donning white lab coats and clipboards to monitor and maintain its production. The students are able to do independent studies in chemistry and other sciences based on their work in the lab. Dr. Philson says every single intern who has worked with him over the last three years has gone on to college.

A few of the tilapia being raised in Dr. Warner’s indoor tanks.
A few of the tilapia being raised in Dr. Warner’s indoor tanks.
Category/Topic: Research and Science

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