Most people don’t think of aquariums as being very high-tech. Generally speaking, that’s a pretty accurate assumption. Aquariums are usually little more than watertight enclosures with a few gallons of water. Even the massive tanks that you see at public aquariums are fairly low tech. It’s the same pumps, chemicals, and enclosure, just on a grander scale and with a higher price tag.
That being said, prepare yourself for one of the most high-tech tanks out there. Meet the AbyssBox, the only tank on Earth that’s capable of displaying deep-sea species.
Down at the bottom of the ocean, in the murky depths that have never seen a single ray of sunlight, strange and alien species scuttle across the ocean floor. At best, mankind has only been a rare visitor into this bizarre and lightless world. We can send military-grade submarines into the depths, but, unfortunately, we’ve been unable to bring back any living souvenirs. The sea creatures just can’t handle the pressure.
Humans experience the bends when they rapidly ascend from high pressure environments, and deep-sea creatures have a similar problem. They can only survive for a few hours at surface levels before their cells shut down and they become completely paralyzed. Sounds awful, doesn’t it?
Bruce Shillito, a biophysicist at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, decided to solve that problem once and for all by inventing the AbyssBox. It’s basically identical to a normal deep-sea aquarium, except that Shillito flipped it inside out. Rather than keeping water out, it keeps it in.
This tiny aquarium holds just 4.25 gallons of water and is about the size of your home refrigerator. All of that gear creates about 180 atmospheres worth of pressure. To put that into perspective, imagine letting three military cargo planes land on your face. You see that tiny little viewing panel? It may look like a simple glass pane, but it’s actually about the size of a popcorn bowl and completely solid. It’s the only way to create a transparent viewing screen that won’t shatter under such tremendous pressure.
The tank is currently displaying Segonzacia mesatlantica, a tiny crustacean. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of them — these little fellas typically hang out 6,000 feet below the surface, so they’re not exactly popular among aquarists. Despite their humble (and slightly ugly) appearance, these tick-like crabs are causing quite a stir at the Oceanopolis in Brest, France.
You may think that a four-inch viewing panel would hardly be worth the time, but people in France are clamoring to get a look at these deep-sea critters.
Besides, the AbyssBox is actually rather trendy. Micro aquariums are all the rage these days!