Scientific research must advance rapidly in order to yield timely, relevant results and earn continued funding. Using the right equipment can eliminate bottlenecks that slow down the pace of advancement. This case study reviews Shedd Aquarium’s choice to install a VACUU·LAN® local vacuum network to remove a bottleneck from their research into optimized microbiomes for marine life, and the resulting impact on throughput and new funding opportunities.


Shedd Aquarium’s (Chicago, IL) Microbiome Project is the world’s first comprehensive look at microbiomes in a controlled aquarium ecosystem. This research, enabled through a generous research grant from The Grainger Foundation, considers the effect on the microbiome on animal health. It allows Shedd to look at the conditions that will allow its residents to thrive in controlled ecosystems, as well as the impact of conditions on animals in the wild. Shedd’s dedication to the maintenance of optimized ecosystems for animals at the aquarium has borne fruit. Shedd famously hosted “Grandad,” an Australian lungfish. Grandad was the oldest fish in any public aquarium or zoo in the world. He was a fixture at the aquarium for 84 years and was a familiar face to multiple generations of visitors. By analyzing water chemistry and collecting DNA samples from the controlled microbiomes being studied, Shedd can provide the most  hospitable aquatic environment for the animals under their care, in the hopes of achieving longevity similar to that of Grandad. However, the aquarium faced a research challenge – they could not analyze samples quickly enough. This limited productivity and stood in the way of realizing the full potential of their research.


Founded by John G. Shedd in 1930, Shedd Aquarium was the first inland aquarium to house permanent saltwater exhibits as well as freshwater habitats. Today, a core part of Shedd Aquarium’s mission is focused on animal care and the environments in which they live. Consequently, sustainability is a major concern for the institution. From water-conserving exhibits, clean-up programs for trash-riddled beaches, green gardens, energy-efficient lighting, even the food the animals eat, sustainability is a core value of Shedd Aquarium. This also extends to vendors with whom the aquarium works – Shedd looks for vendors who share their commitment to sustainability in their products, their services, and even in their manufacturing operations.

The institution proactively seeks out opportunities to improve the sustainability of its operations. The central vacuum system, which consumed large amounts of energy and ran full time regardless of demand on the system, provided an opportunity to further lower the power use and operating costs at the aquarium and reduce Shedd’s carbon footprint. Beyond the sustainability concerns, the vacuum produced by the system was insufficient to support the work going on at the aquarium.


The researchers studying microbiomes found that the bottleneck in their research was that they could not filter enough samples per hour in order to achieve their research objectives. They found that the central  vacuum system made that filtration step take far too long for their needs. They then worked with another vendor to identify benchtop vacuum pumps that would suit their needs, but these pumps were also found to be insufficient. These  pumps  also  created  headaches  –  both  literal  and  figurative  –  due to the high noise level they created and their frequent maintenance requirements. Researchers at Shedd then turned to a VACUU·LAN® local vacuum network from VACUUBRAND. By installing a VACUU·LAN® vacuum system, Shedd was able to overcome these difficulties through the use of a single, quiet pump that fits neatly in the lab space and provides strong, reliable vacuum to the researchers. The VACUU·LAN® system installed at Shedd Aquarium was designed with adaptability in mind. Eight surface-mounted bench turrets were installed along with a single VACUUBRAND ME 16C NT +EK pump. The specially- designed vacuum turrets incorporate check valves which ensure that the vacuum throughout the network is deep and stable, and that there is no interference between system users. This allows scientists, such as those at Shedd Aquarium, to complete multiple simultaneous sample filtrations while using a single pump. By using surface-mounted turrets, Shedd can easily expand the network as future research needs dictate. The surface- mounted turrets also allow for the equipment to be relocated should the need arise. And by selecting the ME 16C NT +EK pump, the aquarium has chosen a pump which is capable of supporting their current work load and allows them to expand their vacuum system should the need arise. Since installing their VACUU·LAN® network in 2017, sample throughput and research productivity have sky-rocketed at Shedd as a result of the increased capacity enabled by their VACUU·LAN® network. “[The increased capacity] alone allowed us to embark on projects and sampling regimes that we simply could not have done prior to having the system,” reports Frank Oliaro, Lab Manager at Shedd Aquarium. He continues by stating that their VACUU·LAN® network allows them to filter “over 35 samples of 2 liters of water each morning for a single project and also have capacity for other projects aside from that. Previously, filtering 35 samples would have taken us too long to complete in one [full] day.” This increased capacity to process samples has permitted the staff at Shedd to do more extensive analysis, and has allowed them to obtain additional grant funding to expand and continue their research beyond the scope and duration of the original grant.


Removing bottlenecks from research can unlock significant productivity gains by improving throughput, thereby increasing the capacity and capability of existing research staff. Through thoughtful and comprehensive planning, it is possible not only to alleviate bottlenecks in the lab, but to simultaneously relieve researchers of nuisance problems such as excessively loud equipment and support broader institutional objectives such as sustainability. By installing a VACUU·LAN® local vacuum network, Shedd Aquarium has achieved all three – improved productivity, eliminated distracting background noise, and supported sustainability. View full case study.

To learn more about Vacuubrand’s Local Vacuum Networks contact Vacuubrand, Inc.