Biocube News

Beyond the Campfire and Kumbaya: Using Biocubes in the Summer Camp Setting

(Posted October 17, 2016)

Three teenagers – a girl and two boys – stand over a table and handle brownish-black specimens in an aluminum tray. Biocubes aren’t just for science class! As part of the marine science summer camp program we offer at the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit in Fort Pierce, Fla., teens study biodiversity using the Biocube project. We strive to have students outside exploring different ecosystems as much as possible. The Biocube project provides a way to really focus in on a specific area and uncover the complexities within ecosystems that could otherwise be missed, all while using inexpensive and accessible materials.

In summer 2016, Smithsonian marine science campers ages 12-15 accomplished all steps of the biocube process – site selection, extracting specimens, sorting, photographing and identification – in teams. The study site was a mangrove ecosystem located on the Indian River Lagoon in Fort Pierce. Each team set out to select an area with high biodiversity and to collect and identify as many specimens in their own cubic foot as possible.

A boy in a red baseball cap and gray shirt squats in shallow water under a mangrove tree, while holding a green biocube.The activity began with a conversation on biodiversity and its importance and several hours later teens had discovered specimens ranging from brittle stars and oysters to sponges and sea squirts! They used data sheets to document important characteristics and conditions of their study sites, and were able to contribute real scientific data by submitting their findings to iNaturalist. Each camper practiced animal identification and specimen photography, and worked with fellow campers to create species lists and document all of their findings. Participants enjoyed the hands-on, feet-wet experience, and most certainly learned a thing or two!

– By Jasmine Fox, Marine Biology Educator at the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit

(Smithsonian Marine Station photos)

Teachers Tackle Climate Change

(Posted October 7, 2016)

Three women and one man standing around a table, using their hands to hold green rods and assemble them into a cube.Zoologist Christopher Meyer took the Biocube show on the road in June, presenting at a teachers’ workshop in Maryland and encouraging the educators to use biocubes when teaching about biodiversity and climate change.

Teachers from Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., convened at the idyllic Fox Haven Organic Farm and Learning Center in Jefferson, Md., on June 27, 2016, for a day-long multidisciplinary workshop on teaching climate change. The workshop was sponsored by Honoring the Future®, a nonprofit project dedicated to harnessing the power of art to educate and engage the public on climate change. Entitled "PUT SOME STEAM IN YOUR STEM,” the workshop featured leading national experts from science, art, law and policy to present the latest information on climate change, answer teachers’ questions, and spark curriculum planning on integrating the teaching of climate change into middle and high school science, math, language arts, and art classes.

Presenters discussed art as a means of understanding and addressing climate change, outlined the potential human health impacts of unchecked climate change, and explained the science of global climate modeling.

The program concluded with a field trip to explore biodiversity in the nearby creek. Led by Meyer, Research Zoologist & Curator, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, this portion of the program introduced teachers to the Biocube, an exciting (and inexpensive) new teaching tool that guides students to identify and appreciate biodiversity. Students may also use the tool to be “citizen scientists,” entering findings in a global database. Dr. Meyer showed how the students’ scientific findings lend themselves easily to presentation as art, using the current “Life in One Cubic Foot” exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History as one of several models.

(Photo courtesy of Honoring the Future)

‘Life in One Cubic Foot’ Exhibit Coming to the Museum

(Posted March 3, 2016)

Large graphic for Life in One Cubic Foot exhibitIf you’re in Washington, D.C., come learn more about biocubes and ways scientists study biodiversity. Visit the “Life in One Cubic Foot” exhibition, which opens March 4, 2016, in the Sant Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Biocubes are one-cubic-foot structures that scientists study over a 24-hour period, observing, collecting, and documenting species, known and unknown, that inhabit or transit through these small spaces. Biocubes, and related structures called Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures or ARMS (used on shallow ocean reefs), provide a standardized lens through which Smithsonian scientists are better able to measure and document our planet’s biodiversity. They provide important new understandings about the health and management of ecosystems during a time of global environmental change.

Through the “Life in One Cubic Foot” exhibit, enter the small worlds of biocubes and ARMS with Smithsonian researchers and other experts as they uncover amazing relationships, unique adaptations, and important lessons for the future of our planet. The exhibit will be on view until July 9, 2018.

(Image by David Liittschwager)

Biocube Team Participates in Citizen Science Conference

(Posted March 6, 2015)

Thumbnail image of Biocube posterBiocube colleagues Jen Hammock, Andrea Wiggins, Yurong He, and I headed to San Jose, Calif., for the first conference of the Citizen Science Association, Feb. 10-12. We had a great time and met lots of friends and colleagues who are designing and implementing citizen science projects all over the world. Over 600 people attended the meeting and 62 countries were represented. (For more information about the conference, see #CitSci2015 or

Andrea presided over a session exploring information technology and related challenges in citizen science. Jen discussed developing infrastructures for data and Yurong talked about assuring and controlling data quality. Student and teacher participation in projects using biocubes provided great examples for all of these talks.

I presented a poster about our Biocube project, illustrated with great images from the January training workshop in Florida. The poster inspired many conversations with interested citizen science leaders. We brainstormed creative ways to implement these projects with alternative groups and settings that complement our current focus on classrooms. That means more biocubes coming soon to a community near you!

— By Michele Weber

Biocubists on the Move in Florida

(Posted March 6, 2015)

Photo of educators placing a biocube in Fort Pierce, Fla.Navigating along shorelines in Fort Pierce, Fla., with bright green cube in hand are three teams in search of ideal study sites. The definition of “ideal” is dependent on the questions being asked, and several options are discussed before any are selected. One team, looking for a spot with “high biodiversity potential” selects a hanging mangrove root, covered in mussels down to about 5 cm into the sediments below the water. Another team chooses a “boundary” habitat; and a third a high human impact area. Each team makes observations, extracts the contents of their cube, and takes them back to the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute for sorting, identifying and photographing.

These biocubists are educators from Florida, Belize, and Curaçao who spent a weekend in January with Smithsonian scientists and educators, National Geographic photographers, and University of Maryland citizen science researchers to learn how to document biodiversity in a cubic foot of space and explore ways they can use this elegant process with students. Laura Diederick, Education Specialist at the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, points out that teachers are ideal partners in the Biocube project.

Photo of educators sorting biocube contents“Teachers have access to students in a way that no one else does, and they also know how to engage their students better than anyone else. Biocubes are a powerful learning tool because teachers can use them to show the process of science and also inspire through exploration. And if you give a teacher a powerful tool, powerful things will happen!“ she said.

The teachers executed the biocube steps from start to finish and brainstormed how to adapt the process to their particular audience and learning environment. Their input enriches the experience for all future biocubists!

— By Jen Collins, Trish Mace, and Michele Weber

(Photos by Jen Collins, top, and Trish Mace, bottom)


First Biocube in the Coral Triangle!

(Posted Jan. 13, 2015)

Photo of scuba divers and a biocube on a coral reef in the Solomon Islands.The Biocube Team was fortunate to participate in a Founder's Expedition to the Solomon Islands during the first two weeks of October 2014 to conduct marine biodiversity surveys in the heart of marine diversity. Thanks to the generous support of the Ross Institute, both David Liittschwager and Zach Kobrinsky, and Smithsonian scientists Seabird McKeon and Chris Meyer got to travel to this remote region of the world, tucked between Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia. The goals of the expedition were to document the amazing marine biodiversity of the region, collect representative species for comparative analyses and to do the first biocube in the Coral Triangle. We chose to do our biocube at Njari Island off Gizo in the Northwest portion of the island chain. Njari is renowned for its amazing fish diversity, being second in the world only to Raja Ampat in Papua, Indonesia.


An adventurous, experienced and stalwart team of five Ross school students and their instructor were assembled from our previous biocube efforts in Moorea French Polynesia. These students took charge of the entire biocube operations. The students surveyed the region, chose the site, set up the biocube, made observations, collected the sample and inventoried all species from the one cubic foot of habitat. Their sampling resulted in over 300 individuals from more than 200 species. In addition to sorting and photographing all the different kinds of creatures, the students carefully took tissues samples for DNA barcoding in order to compare the variation seen in this part of the world with ongoing efforts throughout the Indo-Pacific. The results are sure to highlight the uniqueness of this incredible marine region. 

(Photo by Zach Kobrinsky)