ISU aquarium offers glimpse into deep blue sea

June 5 2006

ISU aquarium From sea urchins to coral reefs, Indiana State University's Science Building now offers a sample of the deep blue sea.

A 260-gallon aquarium designed and built by a student houses a cross-section of marine life and uses electric lights and chillers to maintain a realistic replica of a marine habitat.

A private donor provided the aquarium and Brian Wrightsman of Terre Haute, a senior geology and science education major volunteered to set it up and become its caretaker.

"We used a lot of light to re-create sunlight and pumps to re-create ocean currents as well as keep the stability of the ocean in a captive environment," Wrightsman said. "We had to use heaters and chillers that would maintain the kind of chemistry you would find in the ocean."

A Nemo look-a-like clown fish has emerged as the main attraction of the aquarium, housed in a prominent place in a main hallway of the Science Building's first floor. But the tank has about two dozen other kinds of fish as well as a fully constructed coral reef and an assortment of snails and crabs.

ISU aquarium The aquarium is the culmination of separate, longstanding dreams of two Indiana State faculty members: Charles Amlaner, professor and chair of the department of ecology and organismal biology, and Tony Rathburn, an assistant professor of geology known for expanding opportunities for students in landlocked Indiana to study oceanography. It is a dream that continues to evolve.

"We're thinking about doing what we're calling an 'aquarium on wheels'," Wrightsman said. "We would take some of the sea life you find in the aquarium here and transport it to different schools."

As a science education major, Wrightsman believes such a traveling exhibit would be effective for teaching children about marine life.

"It's always nice to have something like this in your classroom, but in the case of the aquarium, it's just too expensive or tedious," he said.

Rathburn also envisions complementing the aquarium with a vivarium with waterfalls, tropical plants, freshwater fish and colorful frogs.

He believes the combined exhibits would benefit several ISU programs such as oceanography, paleontology, science education, biology and even physics and chemistry. In the case of paleontology, where students examine fossils, the aquarium will help them understand how creatures may have behaved, and enable them to observe the functions of various body parts found in the fossil record.

ISU aquarium "It's interesting to watch some of the fish when they sleep," Rathburn said. "Some of the fish hide in between rocks and some even change color."

While an "aquarium on wheels" may have to wait, ISU's small sampling of the deep blue sea is just a mouse click away from grade school classrooms, or anyone with a computer. Webcams showing real time images of the aquarium are online from approximately 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily at

The aquarium was made possible by donations and a Lilly Endowment experiential learning grant. Donations to help expand the aquarium or construct a vivarium are welcome. For more information, prospective donors may contact Rathburn at (812) 237-2269 or


Contact: Tony Rathburn, assistant professor of geology, Indiana State University,(812) 237-2269 or and Charles Amlaner, professor and chair, department of ecology and organismal biology, (812) 237-2405 or

Writer: Rachel Wyly, media relations student intern, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3773 or

Bookmark and Share

Story Highlights

An aquarium designed and built by Brian Wrightsman, an ISU senior majoring in geology and science education, is bring a sample of the deep blue sea to the university's Science Building.

Bookmark and Share