Meet Brian Maurer

Water Systems Specialist

Interview by Emilio Orozco, high school student and former Aquarium Student Oceanography Club (SOC) member

Describe your job here at the Aquarium.

I basically work with water systems, which includes pumps, filters, UV sterilizers, ozone and anything to do with water quality or life support. If we have a new exhibit I do the design of the water systems, and for current exhibits I maintain them and make sure they're doing what they should.

What did you study?

My background is in oceanography, phytoplankton, marine bacteria—things like that. All that's good for the theory behind a lot of the systems we work with. I have a master's in biological oceanography from Moss Landing Marine Labs. While doing my master's, I worked in a ballast water field, testing systems designed to sterilize ships' ballast water so they don't discharge any potentially invasive species. That's where I got my experience with water systems in a general sense.

"If you're up against something you don't fully understand, don't be intimidated by it. Just try to get into it and break it down and learn."

What do you like most about your job?

I would say the variety. It's always changing. I'm always jumping from one project to the next. There's plenty for me to learn and it's never boring. I get to do a lot of different things and be exposed to a lot of different fields. Probably my favorite thing is that it keeps me really engaged, and I've got to be on my toes to keep up.

What's your advice for students interested in your career?

If you're up against something you don't fully understand, don't be intimidated by it. Just try to get into it and break it down and learn—try to learn as much as you can.

Are there any specific classes you'd recommend for students?

Yes—oceanography, marine science and biology. A lot of people can learn how to work on things or what a pump does or mechanical things, but having the background—knowing why we need this UV sterilizer—is really valuable.

What's the most challenging part of your job?

Sometimes we'll have systems go down and we can't quite diagnose the problem. You just have to work on it until you figure it out. You can have your week planned out and then something happens, something breaks down, and your plans change—and that becomes a priority.

What's your favorite Aquarium experience?

When we're not putting together a new exhibit or maintaining systems, having the opportunity to do a little bit of research on the side is one of my favorite things. I'm doing a research project on biofiltration right now. Biofilters are designed to remove fish waste from the water—remove ammonia and convert it into a non-toxic nitrogen species. We use sand in them, and bacteria colonize the sand and then convert the ammonia to nitrate, which isn't toxic. So, I'm doing research on what kind of sand is best, what temperature is best, what salinity is best—things like that, trying to figure out how to do that better.

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