Algae are amazing: they recycle over half of the carbon dioxide we breathe out and are important for many food chains. However, we still understand very little about how they grow. In future, we may wish to grow algae for food, fuel, or to clean up wastewater so we need to understand more about their biology!
With the above message in mind, we have set up the Big Algae Open Experiment to help us extend our knowledge of algae by performing the biggest parallel algae experiment in history! We are inviting Universities and citizen scientists to participate in an open-source data collection experiment on outdoor microalgal growth. Up and down the UK, we'll be running experiments using a bioreactor we have designed and asking people to submit their recordings of how well the algae are growing. Following and recording the algal growth will be easy for everyone to do, even if they have no previous scientific experience, thanks to this website!
The Big Algae Open Experiment operates based on three steps:
The photobioreactor we will use to grow the algae is designed to be inexpensive, easy to build and simple to use. The current prototype is an airlift-type reactor built from readily available materials, using an aquarium pump for sparging of air. Parts for the reactor were produced using a laser-cutter, a widely-available 'maker' tool. There will be instructions for an Arduino based monitoring system if you'd like to collect data about light and temperature too. We will be publishing the instructions here on the website for you to follow.
While some people have access to a lab, many more people have access to a smartphone. We wanted to create a way to use the camera on your phone to collect data on algal growth, so we've made an web based app to enable many more of you to get involved! At Big Algae HQ, we've been testing our app with laboratory growth data to produce standard curves. This is a fancy way of saying that by snapping a picture using the app, we can translate the image into data on how well the algae are growing.
The Big Algae Open Experiment will operate as a hub-and-spoke model; we will ask Universities to sign up for the project and recruit partner schools or community groups. Everybody will run the same experiment. We would like you to visit each other and work together to learn more about algae. This will also enable the researchers at Universities to show people around their lab, and explain more about their jobs. It may even inspire some of you to think about a career in science! Throughout the month, growth data will be uploaded to our app and at the end of the month will be analysed. During the month you'll be able to compare how well your bioreactor is performing compared to other schools and Universities. At the end of the month, we will be able to look for correlations between environmental conditions and biomass growth. Once the Big Algae Open Experiment has finished, the dataset will be made publicly available for other researchers to benefit from.