Ioponics making a splash at Wartburg

For several years, Associate Professor of Science Education Michael D. Bechtel has worked with several Wartburg student groups to bring plants and animals into the classroom in a very special way.

Educational aquaponics, specifically named Ioponics, is the combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil) in an integrated system using aerobic bacteria that transforms fish waste (NO21-) into nutrients (NO31-) for plants. The process involves a hands-on, researchable process of raising aquatic animals and plants in a controlled micro-ecosystem within school walls. The system is coupled with cross-curricular units and ancillaries for the pK-3, 4-8, and 9-12 grade levels.

Several Wartburg research groups have worked or are working on different aspects (dynamics, husbandry, lesson plans, etc.) of the aquaponics systems with Bechtel and Eric Berns, biology laboratory coordinator. Ryan Henkel ’17 began the campus aquaponics systems in 2015 which was relayed in 2017 to Zack Pogorzelski ’19, Noah Solheim ’21, Candace Baker ’18, and Angelina Carrasquillo ’15 then to Becca Montgomery ’22, Sidney Baumgartner ’22, and Sadie Short ’21 in 2019. Michaela Dehli ’23, Lexi Brown ’24, and Chloe Zierke ’23 joined the program in 2020, 2021, and 2022, respectively. 

Rough schematics of the systems were drafted by Jean Hakizimana ’20 in a CAD program. Two college engineering teams created a 3-D printed, WiFi-enhanced, automatic feeder (Morgan Neuendorf ’17Madison Thomas ’17, Jay Tegge ’17, and Jeremy Ellerby ’17) and a fecal cleaning system (Cal Tauber ’17Dillon DeMott ’17Riley Anderson ’17, and Erica Countryman ’17). Elementary Science Methods (SCI 385) and Secondary Science Methods (BI/CH/PHY 470) students created, and continue to create, lesson plans to be vetted by cooperating schools. Teacher Travis Angell’s Waverly-Shell Rock Middle School classroom and resident Derek Happel’s maintenance building have both benefitted from the systems designed by Wartburg students.


  • HICE in Honolulu, Hawaii, Jan. 3-6, 2023
  • Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children in Des Moines, Sept. 30-Oct. 1, 2022
  • NSTA in Houston, March 31-April 2, 2022
  • Midwest Environmental Education Conference in Decorah, July 2021
  • NAITC in Des Moines, June 28-July 1, 2021
  • Pre-Service Teacher STEM Conference in Cedar Falls, April 2021
  • NAITC in Salt Lake City, June 23-26, 2020 (accepted, but didn’t present because of COVID-19)
  • HICE (Hawaii International Conference on Education) in Honolulu, Hawaii, Jan. 4-6, 2020
  • IAS (Iowa Academy of Science) in Ankeny, Oct. 7, 2019
  • STEM Day at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Aug. 18, 2019
  • NAITC (National Agriculture in the Classroom) in Little Rock, Ark., June 19, 2019
  • NSTA (National Science Teaching Association) in St. Louis, Missouri, April 12, 2019
  • STEM Day at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Aug. 19, 2018
  • Pre-Service STEM Teacher Conference in Iowa City, March 4, 2018
  • Pre-Service STEM Teacher Conference in Iowa City, Nov. 7, 2016
Dr. Michael Bechtel and his Ioponics team with the system in the Wartburg Science Center.

Ioponics in Iowa

In 2021 and 2022, Ioponics (Iowa educational aquaponics) was selected by the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council to be shared with educators of all types throughout the state. Through this grant, 181 40-gallon systems were placed around Iowa (70 counties). Another 200+ three-gallon microsystems also were distributed. Because of the initial success, Ioponics was once again chosen as a Scale-up Program option for the 2023-24 year.  In addition to the systems in Iowa, Ioponics systems also are in 13 states, including Alaska, Arizona, Florida, and Hawaii. 

70 Iowa counties now have Ioponics systems installed