- 19 August 2019
To celebrate Science Week, the CQUniversity Australia’s (CQU) Agri-tech Education and Innovation Team brought their engaging and unique STEM Agri-tech workshops to Goulburn and Crookwell this week.
The program was run in partnership with the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) Industry School Partnership (SISP) Program, funded by the Department of Education.
The event was facilitated by Amy Cosby and Caitlin Evans from the Agri-tech Education and Innovation Team who lead the GPS Cows program (https://www.gpscows.com/).
The team started their week in Goulburn, at Wollondilly Public, Bradfordville Public and Mulwaree High. They then visited Crookwell Public where Bigga, Taralga and Laggan Public also joined in on the fun. To finish off, they visited the Year 8 students at Crookwell High.
The team led students through two activities that focused on increasing their knowledge and skills in emerging agri-tech.
The first activity, Sweet Science, introduced students to refractometers to test the sweetness of fruit. Students were first asked to decide which fruits, including lemons, blueberries and apples, looked the sweetest. It was then time to call upon their scientific skills and measure each fruit’s sweetness by squeezing the fruit’s juice onto the refractometer to obtain a BRIX value.
Caitlin explained how this current method can mean farmers lose a small percentage of their crop, as they have to pick some of the fruit and test it to determine whether it is ripe and suitable for consumers. Researchers are currently working on an automated machine that will be able to determine the ripeness of the fruit without destroying it.
Grapes and blueberries were recorded by students as having the highest percentage of sugar, between 12-15%. Things got interesting when it was time to test the sugar of Coke and Diet Coke. Students were amazed to learn that Diet Coke recorded 0% sugar whilst Coke recorded about 12% sugar, less than the sugar percentage in some fruits. Does this mean Coke is healthier than some fruit? Caitlin was quick to explain to the students that this was not the case.
The second activity, FitBits for Cows, was run by Amy Cosby. Amy explained that the accelerometer device they are currently developing for cattle is similar to the fit bit equivalent for humans. The technology, called an accelerometer, which when used in research, is placed around a cow’s neck via a collar, can track the movement and activity of a cow, meaning it can be used to determine when a cow is down, sick, being attacked or calving.
To fully immerse themselves, students were asked to transform into a cow, place an accelerometer collar around their neck and pretend to eat grass, run and be still. Via an iPad, other students were able to see the different data being recorded.
Amy, also a dairy farmer in Gippsland Victoria, told the students how she is eagerly waiting for the research to be finalised and the technology to be commercially viable. She explained that rather than having to check her cows during the middle of the night for any calving issues, she could stay in bed and simply look at her iPad. Researchers and agri-tech companies are currently looking at how to include this technology in an ear tag, rather than a collar and how to keep the battery charged. Amy asked the students for some advice in this issue, particularly how they could perhaps use renewable energy to power the device.
“It was great to see the students in Crookwell and Goulburn engage with the agri-tech activities and realise that there are many jobs available for them in the agricultural industry that will allow them to use their STEM skills. They had some fantastic ideas as to how they incorporate their knowledge of renewable energy to potentially power an accelerometer ear tag in the future,” Amy said.
Camilla Staff, Project Officer at RDA Southern Inland, has helped to coordinate the SISP program throughout 2019 and was pleased to see just how engaged the students were throughout the activities.
“The students loved it and half the time probably didn’t realise they were using Science, Maths and Technology skills. For us, this program is about exposing students to as many STEM industries and jobs as possible. For many students, they often think the only job in agriculture is a farmer. These workshops hopefully showed students that there are a range of opportunities out there in the ag-tech space.”