Her profession may be in the field of chemistry, but Robyn Rhudy's passion is in the world of nature.
On the job as an analytical food chemist, Rhudy, 29, works in a sterile environment, using test tubes and beakers.
But once she gets to her home in Marriottsville, she can be found wading into the water to clean debris from her backyard ponds, coaxing frogs from under lily pads and counting koi.
In 1997, Rhudy created a Web site detailing her experiences with building ponds and the wildlife they attract.
"Every time I get a new animal or plant, I do research on it and put it on my Web site," she said.
With more than 46,000 visitors to her site, Rhudy felt she had tapped into a market for amateur pond gardeners. So she converted the information on her Web site into a book, Robyn's Pond Book, which was published by 1stbooks Library in April.
Rhudy said that some people are installing backyard ponds because it's the "in" thing to do in landscape design. She said others add a pond because it makes them feel closer to nature.
"You've had a tough day and go out to the pond, and the outside world just washes away," she said.
Rhudy started her first pond in the summer of 1996. She gathered some tadpoles from a drainage ditch at a local park and made a new home for them in a plastic kiddy pool. She added plants, snails and a couple of goldfish and watched her pond thrive.
As cooler weather approached, Rhudy realized that the plastic pool and its inhabitants would freeze in the winter, so she sealed a 50-gallon plastic tub and buried it in her parents' back yard. An electrical outlet was added to supply power for a pump, filter and de-icer.
Rhudy now tends seven ponds on the 5 acres she shares with her parents, Robert and Ellen Rhudy.
The largest pond has two waterfalls and holds 1,800 gallons of water. It cost $7,000 to build.
The smallest pond was created from a planter that holds just 2 gallons of water. Rhudy estimates that the small pond cost about $20.
More than 200 fish, a variety of frogs and snails, butterflies and blue dasher dragonflies call her large pond home. Rhudy's ponds also attract birds, snakes and deer.
In addition to her pond critters, Robyn cares for four cats, a dog, two rabbits, two guinea pigs, five chickens and a lizard. Luckily, that's not a problem for her parents.
"This place is a zoo," Ellen Rhudy said.
"We love the ponds," she added. "It brings more variety of wildlife into the yard. The ponds are really a great addition and add to the value of our property."
Although Robyn Rhudy spends about a half-hour each day answering questions from amateur ponders at her Web site, her book isn't selling as well as she had hoped.
"A lot of the information in my book is available on the Web site," she said.
"People figure, why pay for it if they can get it for free online?"
If you have questions about building your own backyard pond or would like information on ordering a copy of "Robyn's Pond Book," visit Rhudy's Web site at http://userpages.umbc.edu/~rrhudy1/pond.htm.