Happy Birthday, Crustaceous Bionaut!

Happy Birthday, Crustaceous Bionaut!

One of my favorite projects in the magazine over the past five years was the Tabletop Biosphere in Volume 10, written by Martin John Brown. I think the interns enjoyed building the project as well — they had to go out and scoop scum out of a pond, plus they got to visit the cute girl at the tropical fish store, even if she did tell them their little project would never work.

For me, I really enjoyed the biological aspects of the project, and the touch of philosophical dilemmas was an interesting addition to a tech publication (Was it right to start this world? Do you abandon your creations to their sealed fate if things go wrong?). As I write this post, I’m glancing out the window and then at the very biosphere the interns tightly sealed back in 2007. And I’m wondering if a ghost shrimp has a preference in flavor of birthday cake. Because it was exactly two years ago today that our little ghost shrimp, George, was sealed into his Mason jar, and he’s still alive! So, Happy Birthday, George the Ghost Shrimp! No one’s ever opened the jar to let in any oxygen, and in fact, the jar has been turned upside down by rowdy school children, been shuttled off to at least two Maker Faires, and inspired a second biosphere, which was built for a KQED television program, Quest.


We’re not really sure what the Guinness World Record is for longest living crustaceous bionaut, but we do know that the life expectancy of a ghost shrimp is about a year, and the biosphere was predicted to thrive for 3 to 6 months. We’re thrilled that it’s far exceeded our expectations. As is fitting for such a momentous occasion, I asked editors, interns, and others acquainted to offer their thoughts about George the Ghost Shrimp as he continues his odyssey into the third year.

Here’s what people said:

  • Make Editor-in-Chief Mark Frauenfelder expounded: “In these challenging times, this plucky and resourceful shrimp is an inspiration to us all. Long live George!”
  • Former MAKE intern Matthew Dalton got a little emotional when we told him about the anniversary: “Go George!! We’re all rooting for you!!! That makes me sooo happy … he’s my little baby. *sniffs* I remember picking him out of all the other ghost shrimp, cause he looked like he needed a loving home … He’s such a good shrimp!”
  • Daniel Carter, MAKE’s Creative Director, first expressed disbelief: “WTF? How can that little [guy] still be alive?!” But he has since decided to option the film rights on George’s life. While Sam Murphy, photo editor, came up with the plot line. “I think we found our new mascot! George the fix-it shrimp! We could develop this whole heroic back story where he gets struck by an electric charge from Shawn’s computer, and all the MAKE information on her computer he absorbs — and becomes super-shrimp,” she wrote.

If you’ve created your own biosphere, or have some other tale of outstanding successes with regards to your projects, please tell us about them in the Comments.

And happy birthday, George!

12 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Crustaceous Bionaut!

  1. Erik B. says:

    It is crazy to believe that little shrimp has survived two years in a sealed ecosystem, when we ourselves haven’t.

    Carry on our Wayward Shrimp!

  2. Shawn Connally says:

    OMG, that should have been the title for my post. I love Carry On, My Wayward Shrimp! Thanks for Commenting!

  3. Happy Birthday, Crustaceous Bionaut! Becky Stern says:

    He’s so cute! Hi George!

  4. Simon says:

    I have had a jar of pond water sitting on my window sill at home for over 5 years now and that’s still fine. It’s probably not fully airtight but the lid is on and it’s doing well. There is just some kind of green pond plant in there and a bunch of tiny snails. The water remains clear though and the plant and snails seem to be in perfect balance.

  5. Bruce says:

    Great to hear he’s still plugging away in there!

  6. martin says:

    Thanks for the shout out. Glad to hear about George — 2 yrs is amazing! Readers might like to know two things:

    a) at one time this project was available free as a MAKE podcast, at http://cachefly.oreilly.com/make/wp_aquanaut.pdf . Hopefully it’s still there.

    b) Anyone who does this should know that it is NOT the same as just throwing some stuff in a jar. Don’t give in to the temptation to put more animals in there, or otherwise play fast and loose with the recipe. There are reasons for everything in it!

    Cheers, Martin

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