Princeton High School students competing for nationwide STEM award with saltwater aquaponics entry

Photo courtesy of the Cranbury Arts Council
Elaina Phillips watercolor painting of Princeton High School which still is displayed in the school's main office.

Princeton High School has been named one of eight finalists statewide in the 13th annual Samsung Electronics America’s national “Solve for Tomorrow” STEM competition.

The high school is one of 300 public schools nationwide to make the cut.

The annual competition challenges public school students in grades 6-12 to explore the role that STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – can play in solving some of the issues in their communities, officials said.

The competition encourages students to take a hands-on approach to learning that can be applied to real-world problems, making it more than an exercise in the classroom, officials said.

Princeton High School’s winning entry developed a functional framework for saltwater aquaponics. Saltwater aquaponics is a variation of hydroponics, according to

In hydroponics, plants are grown in fresh water with a soil-less media. The plants rely on man-made fertilizer to grow. By contrast, an aquaponics system collects and uses fish waste as fertilizer to grow plants.

“What my students aim to accomplish is a functional framework for saltwater aquaponics, raising shrimp and salt-tolerant plants in a regenerative system,” said Princeton High School science teacher Mark Eastburn.

The plants received fertilizer from the shrimp waste, and the water that has been cleaned by the plant roots is pumped back into the shrimp tank, Eastburn said.

“The premise is two-fold. Iodine deficiency is an enormous problem in the developing world and one of the greatest preventable causes for neurological delays in children. Iodine deficiency can be mitigated through increased consumption of seafood,” he said.

“The second premise is that because we have 97 percent of the world’s water available in oceans, (the ability) to decrease our dependence on freshwater resources for agriculture will enhance global resource security,” Eastburn said.

Meanwhile, Princeton High School will learn in mid-February whether it has been chosen as the state winner, officials said. The school has already received a package of technology and school supplies valued at $2,500.

If Princeton High School is named the state winner, it will receive $20,000 in technology supplies, officials said. One of the 50 state winners will be named the Sustainability Innovation award winner and will receive an additional $50,000 prize package.

Ten national finalists will be chosen from among the 50 state winners, officials said. Of the 10 national finalists, seven will receive a $50,000 prize package and three will receive a $100,000 prize package.