Backyard Biosphere

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Updated on Sep 10, 2013

Human beings have long looked into the cosmos and dreamed of founding new societies on the surfaces of other planets. The problem with this is that our biology is so specifically suited to life here on Earth that even slight deviations from this planet’s conditions can make human survival impossible. Terraforming is one option that many scientists suggest when considering the possibility of future human colonization. Terraforming is the act of taking a planet or a part of a planet (sealed off inside a dome) and making it like Earth. A planet that is like Earth would, in theory, be capable of sustaining life that is from Earth.

Creating a biosphere is one way that one can test the plausibility of creating a sustainable environment that is closed off from the rest of a planet. Under the protection of a biosphere, plants, single celled organisms, fungi, bacteria and animals exist in the correct proportions so that the systems within the sphere mimic the systems protected by the Earth’s atmosphere.


Is it possible to create a biosphere?


  • A clear container at least 2’ x 2’ x 2’ with an air-tight lid
  • Soil
  • Grass
  • A flowering plant such as a pansy or marigold
  • A ceramic bowl
  • Water
  • A microscope
  • Slides
  • optional) sterile swabs
  • (optional) petri dishes


  1. In this experiment, you will focus on creating an ecosystem that can survive without any animals in it. Animals require a great deal more resources than plants, fungi, bacteria and protozoa.
  2. Clean out a large clear container with an air-tight lid.
  3. Dig up a section of grass and soil about 3 inches deep and cover the bottom of the container with the grass.
  4. Level the soil and grass so that one side of the container is 2 inches higher than the other.
  5. Plant a small flower on the higher side of the container. A pansy or marigold plant would make a good choice.
  6. Dig a small hole on the other side of the container.
  7. Sink a deep bowl into the hole. Ceramic is a good material to use.
  8. Fill the bowl with pond water.
  9. Completely water the grass and the flower until the dirt is very wet.
  10. Take an eyedropper worth of water from the bowl.
  11. Take a tablespoon full of soil from the container.
  12. Place the air-tight cover on the container.
  13. Set the container in a place where it will be in the sun most of the time.
  14. Examine the pond water under a microscope.
  15. Examine the soil under the microscope.
  16. Make drawings of the microscopic life forms you find in the samples.
  17. Allow your experiment to sit for 2 weeks.
  18. Uncover the container and quickly collect samples of soil and pond water.
  19. Assess the health of the plants in the container. (Do they appear to be doing well or do they appear to be doing poorly?)
  20. Examine the pond water under a microscope.
  21. Examine the soil under the microscope.
  22. Make drawings of the microscopic life forms you find in the samples.
  23. Compare what you find in the samples with what you started with initially. Is life flourishing? Are there fewer life forms than there were before?
  24. Allow your experiment to sit for 2 more weeks.
  25. Repeat steps 18-23.
  26. Allow your experiment to sit for 2 more weeks.
  27. Repeat steps 18-23.
  28. Return your samples to the outdoors.
  29. (optional) Collect swab samples from the container as during your water and soil collections. Allow the samples to grow in a petri dish to find out how the bacterial and fungal life are faring in your experiment. Swab from the side of the container, from under a plant leaf and from the soil for a good mix of samples.
Writer and educator Crystal Beran is rarely seen without a pen. Her adventures have brought her to four continents and her quest for answers has led her to discover more questions than she could fill all the pages with. She currently resides in Northern California, where she can be found sipping tea and writing books.

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