Andrew Senner: Aquaponics and its future

By Laura Fosmire, August 21, 2014

Ask Andrew Senner what he does for a living, and he rattles off an impressive, albeit foreign-sounding, title.

“I work for a molecular biology lab at Oregon State University’s Pharmaceutical Sciences Department, and I’m going to school for a degree in microbiology.”

Andrew SennerBut really, what it boils down to, he says, is that he’s a problem-solver.  He just looks for solutions at a molecular level.

We’re delighted to announce Senner as one of our speakers for this year’s TEDxSalem event, where he’ll be introducing TEDsters to the concept of aquaponics.

Ever heard of it? Allow Andrew to explain:

“It’s the combination between aquaculture, fish farming and hydroponics or soil as crop production,” he said. “It uses the waste stream from fish to feed bacteria, which convert ammonia to nitrates that the plants can absorb. Then they filter and oxygenate the water back to the fish.”

It’s sort of a self-sustaining, miniature ecosystem. There are some places in Portland and Bend in which people are already doing it. And Senner has big ideas for its future.

“Aquaponics is pretty new,” he said. “Well, sort of. People were doing it thousands of years ago but calling it something else. When I heard about it, I thought, ‘Holy crap, this is a no-brainer. Why aren’t we already doing this?’ It’s really simple and it models nature and it has this resonance, where you put in a little bit of energy and get a lot more out of it every time.”

Senner identifies Coos Bay as where he is ‘from.’ But he’s lived, quite literally, all over — Ohio, North Carolina, California, Washington, Tennessee, and even in Japan. He’s always had a passion for science, starting with chemistry.

“It’s the manipulation of matter that’s fascinating to me,” he said. “I don’t know, I guess I couldn’t put my finger on it but it’s a passion I’ve always had and continue to pursue.”

After enlisting in the Marines, where he was a data network specialist in Japan, he returned to the States to pursue a degree at Oregon State University.

Senner is a newcomer to TED conferences. He heard about the opportunity to speak at TEDxSalem from his wife.

“She heard about it before I did, and I don’t think she expected me to sign up to talk,” he said. “I want to get the word out about aquaponics. And I hope that when people walk away, they’ll be able to pick a problem of their own and understand how that problem occurred and what its causes are. Aquaponics takes its model from nature, and people will hopefully start to do that more intuitively.”