A college professor's invention offers a new way for environmentally conscious students to study fish without plopping their specimens into a jar of formaldehyde.
Mike Howell has patented and is marketing the Teaching-Photographic Tank, or T-P Tank. The V-shaped container lets students view and photograph live fish, which can then be returned unharmed to a stream or pond."You're recycling living specimens," said Howell, chairman of the biology department at Samford University in suburban Birmingham.
Howell, an ichthyologist, has spent years studying fish. In many biology labs, he said, students go to a pond and net small fish, which are killed in formaldehyde, a preservative. The dead fish are then identified and stored.
"I would see the fish sit around in the lab for a week before the students got around to identifying them," he said. "By then, the colors were gone and they didn't look anything like they do live."
Also, he said, students of the '90s do not like the idea of pickling an animal just to look at it.
"We came to a new generation of students, and they didn't want to kill fish. It's a new ecological awareness . . . and I agreed with them," said Howell.
So Howell, after some tinkering, came up with the T-P Tank, which recently went on the market. The tank is simple in design. Two pieces of rectangular, tempered glass are put together in a V-shape, and two more pieces are added on the ends to form a base. Nontoxic sealant makes the tank watertight.
Students pour water into the wide end of the tank and add their fish. The fish wiggles toward the narrowest point in the V and "wedges itself in," immobilizing the animal so it can be studied and photographed. Afterward, students simply pour the water - and the fish - back into the pond.
The Samford Foundation helped Howell get his patent in December 1991. Now O'Dell Industries Inc. of Surgoinsville, Tenn., is producing the T-P Tank. It is being sold nationally for about $20 each by an Alabama company, Blue Springs Hatchery of Leeds.