Make: Biosphere — Three years and counting!

Education Science
Make: Biosphere — Three years and counting!

Way back at the end of March 2007, a couple of MAKE interns sealed the lid on a ghost shrimp and a few snail friends on what the staff thought would be a three-hour tour. Err, I mean a 90-day biosphere odyssey.


Yesterday at 16:35:56 marked the end of the third year of our little experiment, and I’m thrilled and amazed to report that George the Ghost Shrimp lives on, happily immersed in his own ecosystem. The article we published in MAKE, Volume 10 (page 110) indicated that a ghost shrimp could live sealed in a tabletop biosphere for about three months. We think three years is much better, and has duly marked as a cause for celebration.


The water’s a little cloudier three years in, and we’ve had a couple of scares when the shrimp molted and then hid in his seashell home for a few weeks while he grew a new exoskeleton. But during his encampment he’s appeared on television as part of a how-to episode of KQED’s Quest, been shaken and turned upside down by curious (and slightly unruly) kids at an elementary school, and traveled to at least two Maker Faires.

So to the naysayers at the tropical fish store where we bought him, we say simply, “George lives on.” And to those of you reading this who are intrigued by the possibility of having your very own George and an entertaining tabletop science experiment, we say you can buy a copy of the magazine in the Maker Shed, and be on your way in no time.

Biosphere Video Podcast
Tabletop Biosphere Resources
Make Labs’ Biosphere and More
More MAKE Biospheres
Happy Birthday, Crustaceous Bionaut

14 thoughts on “Make: Biosphere — Three years and counting!

  1. Gareth Branwyn says:

    [Sniff, sniff] I’m all verklempt. Our little ghost shrimp is growing up… or at least still breathing algae-rich jar water! Rock on, George. Rock on!

  2. shaunpark says:

    thats not a ghost shrimp (Palaemonetes paludosus)

    pretty sure thats either a snowball (Neocaridina cf. zhangjiajiensis)

    or an amano shrimp (Caridina multidentata)

    1. Shawn Connally says:

      Oh, no! They lied to us at the fish store. Maybe I need to rename it Snowball the Shrimp, or maybe Arduino the Amano?

  3. Gareth Branwyn says:

    OMG. You mean all this time George has been living a lie? I’m devastated. We’ll always love you George, no matter what your Genus!

  4. Simon says:

    I’ve had a sealed jar of pond water with some pond weed in it on my kitchen window sill for over 5 years now. No shrimp but it does seem to have tiny snails in it. I set it up when I first got a microscope and it’s been sitting there, lid tightly on, ever since.

    1. Daniel says:


  5. Carnes says:

    Very neat. I wonder how complex can you make a biosphere like this?

  6. Math Campbell says:

    I’m gonna guess small fish would probably be a bit too resource-intensive to get into a sealed biosphere…

    That said, I have no way of confirming this; you’d need quite a large jar (I’m thinking a nebuchenezzar here!) to keep goldfish self-contained, and what you’d feed them on etc. would be a problem.
    Quite an interesting challenge, making a self-contained ecosystem capable of supporting goldfish. You’d obviously need the plankton and algae as the base, with snails, shrimps, other small creatures etc. to add to the ecosystem…

    Maybe you could base it off one of the coral-reef ecosystems…

  7. Simon says:

    Funny thing with mine is I never set out to make a bio-sphere. I just wanted a jar of pond water for microscope samples. I am amazed it has lasted so long. I need to get the old scope out again. I decided I need to hunt for micrometeorites in my rain gutters!

  8. shaunpark says:

    If someone wanted to try fish, I would advise maybe a zebra danio. Very hardy, small and can tolerate a variety of temperatures and water types.

  9. Ben Rogers says:

    That is not a healthy environment for a shrimp.

    Animals need access to clean water and fresh air.

    Keeping animals intentionally in terrible conditions is not humane.

    1. ZombiePeppers says:

      Hahaha! Seriously you PETA nut! It’s a shrimp! It has no understanding of whats going on!

    2. Tree says:

      Ben, that shrimp has outlived it’s life expectancy by 200%. I’m sure it’s fine.

  10. Anna Lulis says:

    I just made this yesterday, and one of my shrimp has died. Do I need to take it out of the biosphere?

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Sometimes helpful editor and digital media director at MAKE and CRAFT.

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