Getting Started

Let's Start Growing Algae!!!


You are going to have them.  Think about these factors while choosing your growspace:
1.  Cleanable surface

2.  Where will spilled water go?   Will it damage anything?

3. Can the cat, dog, or llama get at the cultures?  (yes llamas,  we have had llama related issues- its a thing)

4.  Will you see it regularly?  You will want to walk by it a few times a day to "give it a swirl" (algae like the attention)

5. Consider trays.  In our lab we often use a cafeteria tray to keep projects organized, it makes them easy to move around together, and of course- contains the spill.

Water Supply:

The key to all of this is "some high quality H2O!" (nod to the movie Waterboy).  Our recommendation for sources of water are below:

1.  Bottled spring water (UV or ozone sterilized).

2.  Bottled drinking water (reverse osmosis municipal water with some salts added, but again UV ozone sterilized)

3.  Reverse osmosis water.   

4. Carbon filtered tap water (if your town uses chloramines, they will likely NOT be removed by activated carbon)

5. Wild water - Seawater or river water.  You will need to filter to 1uM, then disinfect (see our discussion on disinfection) UV and ozone are probably the best means.  Otherwise, boil the water, microwave works too. 


Getting shocked really sucks. Our fearless founder, Matthew, had an "experience "with a Van de Graaff generator while working at Monterey Peninsula college. It gave him a healthy respect for electricity.

These are suggestions, we are not electricians. If you think you are in a dangerous spot,  consult a professional.

1. Get a GFI- Ground Fault Interrupt.  This gadget shuts the power off when a short is detected.  Its good if you are concerned at all that you may spill water.

2.  Get a power strip.  You will likely need to power a light, heater, air pump.  This can add up to ~100W when they are all on at the same time.  Pick your supples appropriately.
3.  Organize your power cords so that in the case of a spill, the water does not run to an unprotected area. 

*Image- totally without permission.  My absolute favorite youtube physicist is Canadian Mehdi Sadaghdar and his show ElectroBOOM is pee in you pants funny!  Come to me for algae education, go to him to physics.  Here is his link.  


We are in the process of manufacturing out own line of LEDs!  But until we get that done, here are our suggestions in order of what we recommend and do not recommend:

1. An LED bulb-  they work well, place cultures 1-10cm from lamp

2. A CFL bulb-  They work well also, but put out a bit more heat than the LED, place 2-15cm from lamp.

3. LED or Fluorescent shop lights.  We use both of these in our shop.  You really don't need fancy grow lights (unless you want to show off to your friends). 

4. An incandescent light:  Ask your grandparents what an incandescent lamp is.  For an incandescent lamp that is 60-100W, place the flasks 5-20cm away.  They create a lot of heat and can overheat the culture and possibly melt your project or worse yet, start a fire.  

5. Sunlight INSIDE of double or triple panes of glass.  We do NOT recommend sunlight for most algae culture, it is too much light. 

6. Direct sunlight.  We do not recommend this unless the total volume of the culture is more than 40L, and the culture has a Secchi Disk Depth at least 150mm.  Its too much light.

Blog post: How much light do I need?
Educational page:Lighting for algae cultures..  

The Heater!

If there is snow outside, or you live in Seattle (sorry Seattle friends), you may need to think about a heat source. 

Direct heater:
Submersible heaters.  These are good and can be purchased from us or from a pet shop.   I like the models that you can adjust the temperature, gives a bit of freedom to do some experimentation.   But I have had some of those fail (yes electrical shock) after 4-5 years of operation.

Indirect heaters: 
Your light source gives off heat.  It is often enough to keep things up.  You can test with a thermometer. 
On top of a heat source... that is waterproof.  Once, Matt suggested to a teacher to set her 500mL culture in her classroom on top of her computer because it gives off heat... he paused and then advised not to do that.  However, atop a little refrigerator, or other heat source that is ~25C is often good.  Use your best judgement. 

Our favorite-  Indirect heat by adding a cover.
Using a 10-gallon fish tank as an incubator works very well.    A single LED light can increase the the temperature for a few flasks by  5-10C, if covered!  Be fire safe!!!

Mixing the cultures:

Why mix at all?  
     First, you need to mix to re-suspendthe culture.  Cultures often sink when they are stressed (for example shipping across the country).  Most cells are slightly negatively buoyant, meaning they sink.  You will need to mix to get them back into the water column.  Other cells, like spirulina, float when they are happy.  Those floating mats of algae need to be mixed back into the water to keep the culture growing well. 
    The second reason to re-suspend is to break the boundary layer.   Imagine you are a cell, who obtains nutrients near it cell membrane.  After some time, the nutrients would be all gathered.  The area around the cell where the nutrients are limited is called the boundary layer.  With a large boundary layer the cell would need to either expend energy to get those materials, or move to another area where the materials were more plentiful (a reason for motility).  By mixing the culture we break the boundary layer and give access the cell access to the nutrients.  
     Lastly, gas exchange!  Algae make a lot of oxygen and need a lot of carbon dioxide.  You need to get rid of the oxygen as it becomes toxic to the pigments above 300% saturation.  I have seen ponds with over 500% oxygen, it smells absolutely happy!  Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not very concentrated, so the ARS media has uses sodium carbonate and bicarbonate, so mixing to get carbon into our systems is not a priority.  But if you are running a non-ARA media,  consider adding CO2 gas.