Behind the Scenes of the HUB Aquarium

With five inches of snow covering the ground and a whole bunch of construction taking up the lawn, the view from the HUB is pretty bleak these days. Luckily, thanks to the Class of 1999, there is a gorgeous aquarium on the first floor to give us something to admire. It’s the closest most of us will get to the tropics for a very long time, or ever, and we have Sanjay Joshi, professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering, and his team to thank.

Back in 1999 most of us were busy taking care of our Tamegotchis and preparing for Y2K, but Penn State’s graduating class was deciding how to leave their mark on the university. Their final decision was the gift that keeps on giving—one 500 gallon tropical fish tank, and one 150 gallon tank. The tanks are now home to 30 different species of fish, including clownfish and surgeonfish. The large reef growing inside the tank started as a tiny speck when the aquarium was first installed.  There are also about 250 pounds of live rock and 100 pounds of sand.

The aquarium is a landmark in the HUB, and it’s the standard for cliché Penn State meeting grounds. At some point, almost every Penn State student has agreed to meet a friend by the aquarium.

“We live in a land-locked state,” Joshi told the Centre Daily Times. “It’s the place where people can say, ‘meet me at the aquarium,’ and they know where to go.”

Sure, we love the aquarium, but we’ve all seen Finding Nemo, we know what happens when you don’t clean a tank. That’s where Joshi comes in. With the help of consultant Bill Straka and a group of student volunteers, Joshi makes sure conditions are always perfect for the fish. This means keeping temperatures at a perfect 78 degrees, keeping the fish fed, and keeping the water just salty enough.

Two students are charged with feeding the fish every day and testing the machinery. They use a mix of salt and water called “Instant Ocean” to keep the water at perfect Pacific Ocean conditions. A majority of the fish in the tank are found around Hawaii, so it’s imperative to maintain these conditions.

The tanks have become more high tech since installation in 1999. They’re hooked up to a computer that alerts Joshi of any malfunctions when he’s not in the area. Further, there’s talk of adding interactive touch screens.

“My favorite thing is being able to replicate and educate people about one of the most fascinating ecosystems in the world – the coral reefs,” Joshi said.

So, next time you’re hanging out by the aquariums and wishing you were some place significantly warmer, think of Joshi and his gang of fish protectors. Thanks to them, we have something to enjoy until spring finally comes.

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