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Students tops in agriscience

March 01, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

Students tops in agriscience

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Todd Wilt, 16, trained fish in a tank to swim toward a red light so they would get more exercise.

Michael Arndt, 16, worked on trying to get more air into fish tanks.

And John Aliucci, 16, raised lettuce in fish waste.

Their fishy experiments garnered them top honors at a National Future Farmers of America Agriscience Fair in Kansas City, Mo., in November and recent praise from the Jefferson County Board of Education.

The three boys, all sophomores at Jefferson High School, were first-place winners in their divisions at the national competition, said school board spokeswoman Liz Thompson. They competed against about 70 other students from across the country at the national event.

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Two other local boys, Freddie Gratz and Josh Householder, both ninth-graders at Charles Town Junior High School, were second-place winners in their divisions at the national contest.

Gratz's project was in the zoology division, Thompson said. He studied the impact of population density on water quality in a 150-gallon tank. He had three tanks with populations of 42, 84 and 168 fish. The tank with 84 fish had the best impact on water quality.

Householder competed in the environmental division, Thompson said. He compared vegetable seed grown in volcanic material with those grown in potting soil. The plants in the volcanic material appeared healthier than those grown in the potting soil.

All of the boys learned about aquaculture at Charles Town Junior High School, where they conducted their studies for their projects.

Wilt won first place in the biochemistry division with a two-year project studying stress in hybrid striped bass. He said he taught the fish to swim to a red light in the tank by offering them a reward when the light was on.

He would then turn on a light at the opposite end of the tank and they would swim to it searching for food, he said.

Wilt then took blood samples from the fish and counted the number of red blood cells. He determined that getting the fish to exercise improved their immune systems, making them better able to handle the stress of a fish tank.

Arndt won in the engineering division by working on the aquaculture lab's recirculation system. He hoped to put more air into the tanks to improve the water quality and allow for the growth of more fish in the same amount of water.

Arndt studied the differences in the water quality by injecting air bubbles at different depths and by increasing the size of the air bubbles.

Aliucci won first place in the botany division. He believed that using fish waste as a fertilizer would be more effective than synthetic commercial fertilizers.

He planted lettuce in the fish waste and compared it over a seven-week period with lettuce fertilized with a commercial product.

The lettuce in the commercial fertilizer had better leaves and a deeper root system, disproving his initial hypothesis, he said. The contest judged him the winner, however, based on the strength of his study.

Aliucci and Wilt said they plan on going into fish farming as a business venture together. They said they recently poured concrete footers for the greenhouse they're building to raise fish in tanks for markets.

While they've worked out the technology and business plans, they have not yet come up with a name for their planned company.

"We're still working on that," Wilt said.

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