A fun approach to experiencing agricultural sciences

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Flying VIP visit to the ETH booth at the opening of Olma yesterday: Federal Pres

Flying VIP visit to the ETH booth at the opening of Olma yesterday: Federal President Guy Parmelin and ETH President Joël Mesot play the ’Agricultural Policy Jenga’. (Photograph: smith-art/ETH Zurich)

ETH Zurich is at Olma. Until 17 October, the family-friendly ETH booth will showcase "Research for Sustainable Agriculture" and introduce key issues in crops, livestock and agricultural policy through interactive games.

After last year’s cancellation of the St. Gallen Olma due to the pandemic, Switzerland’s largest trade fair for agriculture and food opened its doors yesterday. "Olma is a valuable place for encounters," enthused Federal President Guy Parmelin. "There are so many important issues. Talk to each other and listen to each other."

On his traditional opening tour, the president also visited ETH Zurich’s booth, which has the motto "Where the future begins - research for sustainable agriculture". "The ETH Zurich exhibition is dedicated to the important topic of digitalisation. This digital transformation is changing the agricultural and food industry, and as a result our whole world," commented Parmelin, adding that this makes it all the more important to seek dialogue and talk about opportunities, fears and concerns.

Fun insights into agricultural research

Parmelin was welcomed at the ETH Zurich booth by ETH President Joël Mesot, who emphasised the importance of social exchange for the university. "Olma offers us a welcome platform for dialogue between science, the public and practice," he said.

Parmelin and Mesot illustrated how such a dialogue can be promoted in a game of "Agricultural Policy Jenga". They worked together to try to balance the Jenga blocks representing different roles and interests to create a stable and sustainable food system. But the tricky game is more challenging than you would expect, and for this reason alone it provokes discussion.

Platform for the institute’s anniversary

The Jenga approach is one of several interactive games developed by the Institute of Agricultural Sciences to mark its 150th anniversary. The institute has been celebrating its anniversary year with a series of events, which are now being rounded off by the appearance at Olma.

"At Olma, we have the opportunity to show what ETH Zurich is doing for sustainable agriculture. The university has been teaching and researching in the field of agricultural sciences since 1871. At the same time, it gives us the chance to learn what people think and what moves them," said Mesot.

Games as a highlight of the ETH booth

The family-friendly ETH booth offers an exciting and accessible insight into the world of agricultural sciences, enabling visitors to learn in an entertaining way how digital technology and artificial intelligence help to make Swiss agriculture more environmentally friendly and resource-efficient.

The games provide an introduction to central research questions in the areas of crops, livestock and agricultural policy. For example, the "Drone Course" game allows visitors to control one of these devices themselves and learn how the smart flying machines document plant growth in the field and work with robots to reduce pesticides and fertilisers.

In the "Ruminant Simulator", interested visitors can find out exactly which alternative feeds can best reduce the climate-damaging methane emissions from cows. And anyone who dares can attempt to balance the food system in the "Agricultural Policy Jena" mentioned above, in order to provide consumers with affordable and healthy food, enabling farmers to make a living and maintaining natural resources in the long term.

The "Morph Tales" game offers younger visitors the opportunity to protect a field from weeds with the artificial intelligence Morph, and learn through play about what AI can do.

Finally, SmartBreed from the ETH Student Project House is presenting its fully automated insect breeding box for sustainable poultry feeding. And in the children’s corner, the youngest can colour in a worm in an apple and present their work in a three-dimensional form.

A detailed description of the games and exhibits can be found on the ETH booth website. Olma will run for another ten days until Sunday, 17 October.

Michael Keller

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