Hands holding grains

How we are improving food production

16 April 2019
Engaging the public in the science of food production
More and more people are becoming disconnected from food production. Our researchers recently attended the annual Camden Show to reconnect people with how their food is produced and show them how we are researching new ways to improve agricultural production.
Dr William Salter

Dr William Salter, postdoctoral plant physiologist at the Sydney Institute of Agricuture and the School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

Camden campus is fittingly located in one of Australia’s first agricultural regions and is home to one of New South Wales’ largest country shows.

Now in its 133 year, the Camden Show maintains its rural charm and agricultural focus with livestock competitions and exhibitions of horses, cattle, poultry, goats, alpacas, sheep and dogs.

Yet there is also an emphasis on educating the next generation in agriculture and food production practices. With this in mind, this year we decided to highlight the cutting-edge agricultural research conducted at the Camden campus.

Researchers from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences (SOLES), the Sydney School of Veterinary Science (SSVS) and the Sydney Institute of Agriculture (SIA) came together on the 5 and 6 April to present their work to the general public through a number of hands on activities, including:

  • Entering plant cells through microscopy and virtual reality with Dr William Salter and PhD student Richard Harwood.
  • Exploration of plant pathogens with PhD student Michelle Demers and Masters student Joey Lu.
  • Virtual reality tours of the robotic dairy with Associate Professor Cameron Clark and Dr Sabrina Lomax.
  • Designing nutritious chicken diets with Dr Sonia Liu.
  • Lego polymerase chain reactions and pipetting lessons with PhD student Karen Matthews and Associate Professor Katrina Bosward.
  • Finding out exactly where our beef comes from with Dr Melanie Smith.
  • Building viruses with Eugenia O’Brien.

The reception to these activities from the public was fantastic, particularly from the large number of local school groups who visited the university stand. On the Friday we had over 25 schools visit the stand, comprising over 1200 students and 300 teachers/parents. On the Saturday over 2500 members of the public visited the stand. Our researchers were using new technology such as virtual reality for the first time this year to highlight their research and engage with children (and their parents and teachers!) in ways not possible before.

“It was moving to see the enthusiasm and excitement that these kids had for our science,” said Dr William Salter, a plant physiologist in SOLES and SIA. “It was particularly exciting to see their reactions when I showed them wheat chloroplasts down the microscope and then told them that these tiny organelles produce the sugars that we eat and the oxygen we breathe. To then be able to put them into a virtual reality wheat cell and show them the chloroplasts in 3D blew their minds!”

There were also activities for younger children to enjoy. Dr Joanna Haddock from the Faculty of Science Outreach team highlights the joy of hundreds of primary school children whilst making plates of nutritionally balanced chicken feed, “One little girl paid extra attention to the ingredients that “Dr Sonia” was telling the students about and asked me to write them down for her. She explained that it was important to her as her grandmother kept chickens and she wanted to help her grandmother to keep them healthy with a balanced diet!”

The vets from the Camden Equine Centre and Livestock Veterinary Service have been donating their time to the Camden Show community for the past 13 years as on site veterinarians. As a result of their outstanding service, they have been granted the title of Champion Sponsor. Dr Robin Bell oversaw all equine dressage, hacking and show jumping events. Drs Jennie Mohler and Victoria Hudson oversaw the all cattle, sheep, goat, alpaca, petting zoo, display animals and rodeo events.

We would like to thank the Camden Show Society and the Macarthur Centre for Sustainable Living for giving us the opportunity to showcase our research at the Camden Show and look forward to bigger, better and more exciting activities next year.

Links to the online VR videos presented at the Camden Show are provided below:
- Chickpea leaf fly through
Inside a wheat mesophyll cell
Tour of the robotic dairy
PBI glasshouse tour


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