How to make an ecosystem in a glass sphere

Written by sarah snow
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How to make an ecosystem in a glass sphere
Sealed ecosystems will survive at least one month and up to several years depending on light and proper nutrient balance. (violetkaipa/iStock/Getty Images)

Imagine capturing an Earth-like habitat in a glass bottle. Science fiction writers and modern day scientists have laboured and accomplished this very task. Primary school pupils create terraform ecospheres in glass bottles, and scientists wonder what it would be like to create glass-enclosed human habitats under the sea or out in space. While man-made ecosystems for humans are centuries away from successful engineering, the creation of a miniature enclosed ecosystem is well within our grasp. The trick to building a self-sustainable ecosystem is finding the proper balance of elements, microbes and living creatures and providing them with the proper amount of warmth and light.

Things you need

  • 2.25 litre (1/2 gallon) glass sphere with a flat glass cover
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) natural sand or lake soil
  • 1.5 litres (6 cups) stream or pond water
  • Freshwater algae strands
  • 1 Twig
  • 1 Freshwater fish
  • 5 Small freshwater worms
  • 1 Freshwater snail
  • Heavy-duty glass adhesive
  • 1 Sphere stand

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  1. 1

    Sterilise the glass sphere by warming the glass in boiling water. This will remove any leftover oils, minerals and residue from the manufacturer.

  2. 2

    Place the sand or lake soil in the base of the sphere. Natural sediment contains bacteria and microbes that will provide necessary nutrients to the animal and sea life in the sphere.

  3. 3

    Gently pour the water into the sphere. The sphere should be three-quarters full, because your ecosystem requires air. Allow the sediment to settle before adding the plant or sea life.

  4. 4

    Wrap the algae strands loosely around the twig. Place the twig upside down in the jar. The top of the twig should point into the sand.

  5. 5

    Place the worms, small fish and snail gently into the sphere. Give these creatures several hours to become accustomed to their new home before sealing the sphere.

  6. 6

    Apply adhesive to the edges of the glass lid and press it securely over the base of the sphere. Place a heavy object -- like a book -- over the lid to apply pressure and promote a good seal. Allow the sphere to rest for the length of time the adhesive requires to dry.

  7. 7

    Swirl the sphere gently in circular motions to loosen the sediment from the top of the sphere. Turn the sphere slowly upside down and rest it on a stand. Be sure that all sediment is cleared from the top of the sphere, or it will create a film and prevent light from entering the glass.

  8. 8

    Place the ecosystem in indirect light. The algae grows more when it receives more light, but if it grows too much, it will suffocate the fish, worms and snail.

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