Making waves around Australia!

When I became one of the Queensland Flying Scientists I decided to build a transportable wave tank to demonstrate how coastal ecosystems protect our shorelines from erosion and flooding when conducting science outreach in regional and remote communities. Since then, I have received much interest from other educators in doing the same so here I outline how to create your own wave tank.


Tank & Wave Paddle:
  • 10 mm Perspex (1 sheet, 1200mm x 1200mm)
  • Tap components (I got mine here):
    • 10mm AISI316 SS plug 3/8″
    • 10mm AISI316 SS elbow 90deg MxF
    • 10mm s/s nipple
    • 1/4″ Zinc plated ball valve
    • 10mm hose end x 10mm MI BSP heavy duty AISI316
  • 10mm plastic hose
  • 10 mm Perspex (leftover from sheet used from tank)
  • Aquarium gravel
  • Waterproof silastic
  • Paint stripper heat gun
  • 4 x plastic pot plants (or similar – mine are from IKEA)
  • Resin (I used Dalchem Crystal Clear Resin Kit 1L)
  • Resin dye (I used Jacquard Pinata Havana Brown)
  • Weights (fishing sinkers, rocks)
  • 4 x bricks (or two piles of books)
  • Wood (small scraps to build a resin mould)
  • Plastic wrap
  • Masking tape


Tank & Wave Paddle:

It’s important to note that the dimensions of my wave tank were specifically selected to fit in luggage so that I can travel around Australia with it when doing science outreach. If you’re interested, this is the suitcase it fits into.  I selected perspex because it’s less breakable than glass but if I didn’t need to gravel with it I would have purchased a large fish tank.

  1. My tank was constructed by Mr Plastics in Slacks Creek, Queensland. This is the same company that builds wave flumes for the Hydraulics Laboratory at The University of Queensland (so it’s great quality and they know what they’re doing!).
  2. For your information, I’ve included the dimensions of my tank below.
  3. We have also included a tap and hose to aid emptying the tank after use.

The primary purpose of the beach is aesthetic so you’ll want to create a shape and select gravel that serves your purpose. The secondary purpose is to reduce some wave reflection. If wave reflection is a concern you can adhere geofabric to wire mesh instead of building a perspex beach.

  1. Cut the perspex so it can be slide into the tank easily.
  2. Using a paint stripping heat gun, heat up the areas of perspex you wish to bend. I didn’t find an easy way to do this, and my beach is not a smooth gradient but the gravel covers this up.
  3. Let the perspex completely cool.
  4. Shave off any sharp edges to avoid scratching the inside of the tank when setting up and removing the beach from the tank. We did this using a grinding wheel.
  5. Apply solastic to the upwards facing side of the perspex and heavily sprinkle with gravel.
  6. Leave out to dry.
  1. Firstly, we created a mould for our resin blocks using scrap pieces of wood. We glued them together using wood glue and clamps but you can buy pre-made moulds in Art Stores or possibly use an appropriately sized silicon cake mould instead.
  2. To ensure the resin didn’t stick to the wood (and to ensure the resin remaind glossy and smooth) we lined the mould with glad wrap.
  3. Mix the resin according to instructions and add dye to create appropriate colour.
  4. Pour the resin into the mould.
  5. We added a combination of fishing sinkers and small stones to the resin to help make sure the resin blocks didn’t float in the tank. Note: I’m not sure if they actually would float if we hadn’t done this, but it does add a more natural element to their aesthetic.
  6. Remove the plastic plants from their pots and put two in each block. The resin will take ~24 hours to set so you need to fix the plants in place. We did this by placing bricks on each side to hold them in place and ‘hung’ them using wire and an old clothes line to keep them upright.
  7. Once the resin is dry, the block should ‘pop’ out of the wooden mould. Some of the glad wrap might be stuck to the resin but it’s not too difficult to remove.
  8. Repeat a second time.

Wave Tank in Action!

I’ve used my wave tank to demonstrate numerous concepts of varying complexity to primary and high-school students, community members and educators. Here are some images and snippets from my most recent demonstrations.

World Science Festival Townsville 2022
Photo: World Science Festival Townsville

Wonder of Science State Conference 2021

Photo: Wonder of Science

Nanyang Technological University Student Visitors 2022

If you found this useful, or decide to build a tank of your own please let me know as I’d love to see it in action!

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Katie Carter

    A truly engaging way of teaching coastal dynamics!
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Alice Twomey

      Hi Katie,
      Thank you, it’s a great way to test hypotheses in class. Let me know if you need any experiment ideas for students in class.

  2. Allan

    Thanks for sharing. This will be fun to build and use as an interactive display.

    1. Alice Twomey

      Hi Allan,
      No worries, I hope you find this useful. Feel free to contact me if you have any queries 🙂

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