Student makes a Boneyard Creek jarrarium


Photo Courtesy of Sarah Kemp

An ecosphere made by student Sarah Kemp using water taken from Boneyard Creek sits near a window.

By Elizabeth Sayasane, Features Editor

Sarah Kemp, a graduate student studying animal sciences, wanted to find a way to occupy her time while in quarantine. After watching a YouTube video of someone creating an ecosphere from a creek nearby, she was inspired. She walked to Boneyard Creek and collected some water and life in a jar. She posted frequent updates on the University Reddit page of how her jar of life was growing and changing.

The Daily Illini interviewed Kemp about her project. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Daily Illini: Can you share your process of creating this ecosphere?

Kemp: I saw a YouTube video, I don’t remember who it was, but a man took a little glass jar and went to a creek that he lived by. It was a really slow process. He let it sit and there wasn’t much activity, maybe a few bubbles the day after; and then, he started to see a snail or something—I don’t know. It just seemed pretty interesting, and Ive always really liked nature, so I was like, ‘oh, I live pretty close to Boneyard Creek, maybe I could get something interesting from there. I had a jar (lying) around, and I went over there with my roommate and collected a little sample. I didnt really do too much research. I just saw the video, so I just guessed what to put in there. By the time I had gotten home and let it sit for a while and settle, I immediately saw all this activity. It was kind of cool and also a little unsettling, but I just thought it was really incredible how much was in there. I honestly really wasnt expecting anything to show up that first day, but I had stuff in less than 24 hours.

DI: What exactly is an ecosphere?

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    Kemp: From my knowledge, it’s supposed to be a self-sustaining enclosed ecosystem. There should be enough algae in there so that there is oxygen, and also you get the sunlight that provides the food for the algae. Basically, you should be able to leave the jar closed and it should be able to exist just as if it were in a creek, but in the jar.

    DI: What did you make sure to include when you were collecting a sample for your jar?

    Kemp: First I found an area that was pretty still. I had a glove on and basically just scooped up some of the silt from the bottom and a little bit of water. I also looked around for anything that looked sort of green or like algae. I put a leaf in there as well, just things that I thought would stimulate life.

    DI: What did you eventually find living in the jar after it settled?

    Kemp: That night when I looked at it, I saw these little dancing worms on the bottom and I had no idea what they were. It was crazy how many were in there and it wasn’t that big of a jar. The following day I started seeing what looked like slugs. They were crawling up the sides of the jar. I later found out that they were called planaria. There were also other things that I wasn’t able to identify but looked similar to those planaria. It’s mostly me just asking people online and posting pictures and asking people to help identify things.

    DI: How long were you able to keep it?

    Kemp: I had it for three days, but then I was getting a little nervous about having it in my apartment. Some people were saying that some of the things were leeches, which was freaking me out, so I left it outside at night. I forgot to bring it in before I went to work in the morning, and I think the sunlight got too hot in the jar, so they ended up dying. I think, had I not left it outside I probably would still have it today.

    DI: Will you try to make another one?

    Kemp: I’m definitely thinking about it. It definitely is a little unnerving having it in here just because I don’t really know what it is, so it could be harmful, but I really liked posting about it and seeing all these people respond. I think it made so many people happy and I thought that was really cool, especially now that we’re all in quarantine. I thought it was such a fun thing for us all to, like, feel connected over.

    DI: How was it keeping all the people on the subreddit updated on the ecosphere?

    Kemp: I didn’t really know who else to show it to and thought the people here at this University would be interested in it, but I got so many happy comments from people who were so interested in it and had the same reaction as me: they were interested, but also kind of grossed out. It was just really cool. 

    DI: You said you got some help identifying different organisms from other people online. What were they able to share?

    Kemp: I think there were a couple of people on the University Reddit who helped identify it. I posted it on a subreddit called Jarrariums where most people were able to respond with information about what they were. I think there was one comment where they were joking and saying it was this really dangerous leech, but for the most part, everyone was really helpful. They thought it was pretty cool, so I got actually pretty immediate responses to the post about what they were and actually got pretty popular too.

    DI: Why might other people be interested in trying this out?

    Kemp: I think I would do it again. It was really cool and fun, especially now since a lot of us don’t really have much to do. A lot of people I know are just stuck at home, and you can kind of go crazy, so it’s fun to be able to get out of the house and also be able to connect more with nature. I could also bring it home and have my own little creek in my apartment. I just think it’s a really cool way to be more connected with the environment. 

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