Max Davis ’19 and Vivien Qiao ’19 Pursue Passion in Aquaponics

With their project in aquaponics, Max Davis ’19 and Vivien Qiao ’19 are exploring environmentally-conscious agriculture.

Terrence Xiao ’17, a recent Andover graduate, started the project during his Senior year as his Independent Project (IP) in biology. Davis and Qiao took on the responsibility after Xiao, who wanted the aquaponics system to continue at Andover after he graduated. Both having experience in aquaponics, Davis and Qiao took the opportunity to manage a project they are passionate about.

“Aquaponics is basically a way to grow plants, like agriculture. Basically, Terrence wanted to make sure [his IP] is still being used to grow stuff and not just sitting there,” said Davis.

Davis and Qiao are running the project mostly independently, with a couple of faculty members supporting them behind the scenes. Melanie Poulin, Biology Lab Assistant, and Leon Holley, Instructor and Chair in Biology, have been helping the pair throughout their progress. Poulin is a lab technician and helps them set up the labs and make sure the plants are in good shape.

Both students emphasized how environmentally friendly the system was. Unlike regular agriculture, aquaponics does not require any fertilizers or pesticides. It also conserves water, as the water cycles through fish before going back to the plants. Davis stated that some biology classes at Andover have used this system during their classes, for example, Biology-420, Animal Behavior.

“It should be relevant because it saves a lot of water. It may not seem like that, but it actually uses 90 percent less water than regular agriculture,” Davis said.

Davis explained the idea of aquaponics as hydroponics, but better. In hydroponics, plants are in a grow medium, usually gravel. During the process, water is circulated through the gravels, and plants receive their nutrients from what is in the water. This process requires adding nutrients to the water chemically. In aquaponics, however, the fish make the process easier, as the plants use the waste that the fish naturally create as nutrients.

Davis and Qiao have been working together in the field of aquaponics since before they both came to Andover.

“I think it started in middle school when we were in seventh grade and when we were maintaining our middle school’s greenhouse. Then we thought of the idea of doing an aquaponics project. We applied for grants, and in our eighth-grade year, we actually made the system. We really liked it, so we wanted to do it again,” said Qiao.

Davis and Qiao both expressed their love of plants and animals, and aquaponics was something that contained both. The eco-friendliness brought the two together in creating an aquaponics project at their old school. According to them, however, their friendship goes beyond a shared interest. Davis explained that they have been friends since they started to work on projects together, and their enthusiasm for the subject allowed them to bond. As partners, they are both happy for the other’s presence on the team.

“It’s been good to work together. It is nice to have a different opinion or view sometimes because we disagree on some things, and sometimes we fight. It’s okay because we always end up working it out, and we challenge each other in a way. We sort of motivate each other to do more, and we’re thinking of starting a new project. We want to do another aquaponics project, but that’s still [in] the works, so we don’t know yet,” Qiao said.

Qiao is looking ahead to what she hopes her and Davis’s work with aquaponics could become.

“[Davis and I] really like aquaponics, and we hope to pursue our passion throughout life. We just see it as a more viable option and hope to see more people use it in the future,” Qiao said.