SAFE – Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry Explained

“The fact is, that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed - it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardise education, but to personalise it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”
Sir Ken Robinson (1950 – 2020, Erziehungswissenschaftler und Pädagoge)

The key role of creativity and practical work

The right climate is needed to favour learning and promote talent. The environment outlined by Sir Ken Robinson is particularly conducive to fostering individual creativity. Creativity is not just an artistic flair, but a cognitive ability that favours critical thinking, problem solving and innovation. Recognising and encouraging creativity in education is a key element in navigating today's increasingly complex world. Creative thinking encourages looking at problems from different perspectives, analysing information and developing unique solutions.
In addition, creativity fosters a sense of curiosity and discovery. It encourages asking questions, investigating and seeking knowledge beyond the conventional boundaries of a curriculum. This intrinsic motivation becomes a powerful driving force that goes beyond memorisation and leads to a deeper and more lasting understanding of concepts.

Another key component of effective education is hands-on learning, as it provides students with tangible experiences that improve their understanding and retention of information and concepts. Through practical lessons, theoretical knowledge can be applied to real-life scenarios, bridging the gap between theory and practice.
This approach is particularly effective in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), where experiments, projects and interactive activities bring abstract concepts to life. The tactile and sensory experiences associated with hands-on learning create lasting impressions and promote a positive and dynamic learning environment that caters to different learning styles. This particularly suits visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles and ensures that information can be effectively grasped and internalised. Practical activities also create an inclusive atmosphere that emphasises enthusiasm for learning and, in particular, creates a sense of achievement. This not only encourages a spirit of enquiry, but also provides students with practical skills that can be applied beyond the classroom.

The teaching-learning laboratory of the Montanuniversität

Creativity and practical teaching are therefore two powerful tools that facilitate a better understanding of complex content and in particular also make a significant contribution to getting (young) people excited about technical - often complex - content. The MUL's teaching and learning lab uses precisely this approach to familiarise pupils with exciting topics from technology and nature (TripleN reported on this in the 3rd issue, editor's note). In interactive workshops, pupils aged between 7 and 12 can give free rein to their love of experimentation under supervision and explore the exciting connections in a playful way in small groups.

In addition to the three existing workshops "Salts", "Plastics" and "Metals", further workshops on the topics of "Energy" will be offered from the 2023/24 school year and, from the summer semester also on the topic of "Graphite".

How we (want to) communicate research at Montanuniversität

In numerous research projects, the Montanuniversität deals with key problems along the entire value chain. With the development of environmentally friendly, energy-efficient technologies to overcome future challenges facing society in the fields of raw materials and materials, securing resources, C0² reduction and waste avoidance, it makes a substantial contribution to the sustainable use of resources and energy in society. However, innovative solutions can only bring about the necessary transformation if they are also implemented. In addition to many other things (e.g. investments, political and economic framework conditions), an understanding of the mechanisms of action of these solutions and acceptance for their implementation is needed not only in science, business and industry, but also in society in particular.

In the Strategic Core Research Area Hydrogen and Carbon (SCoRe A+ Hydrogen and Carbon), around 120 scientists at the Montanuniversität Leoben are currently researching innovative solutions to complex issues in areas such as the transformation of industry and energy systems, sector coupling and the associated need to optimise materials and substances. The results of these diverse research projects developed in recent years have been communicated in numerous specialist publications and have met with a broad and extremely positive response from the scientific community. Another milestone in the development of this research area is the H² -C research centre currently under construction on the site of the former Magindag in Leoben Leitendorf.
Here, the pyrolysis of methane, i.e. the splitting of methane into hydrogen and solid carbon with the help of renewable energy, is being realised on a pilot scale. The research planned for the coming years will make a significant contribution to the further development of this technology. Other research focal points relating to the key element hydrogen, in the context of the core competences of Montanuniversität Leoben, e.g. in the fields of metallurgy and materials. However, the research activities relating to the second valuable material from pyrolysis open up a completely new field of activity: carbon can make a significant contribution to sustainability in agriculture and, among other things, to building up humus in nutrient-depleted soils. The experiments carried out to date have impressively shown that the increase in water holding capacity and nutrient availability associated with carbon can also increase the resilience of plants to drought stress.

The site in Leoben Leitendorf offers sufficient space for further innovative research facilities and also provides the opportunity to make the exciting research into the use of carbon in agriculture and forestry accessible to the general public in the form of a science garden. The detailed design of the 'Communication and Science Area for Sustainable Technologies' SAFE (Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry Explained) is currently being planned with internal and external partners. The favourable location of the site directly on the cycle path between Leoben and Hinterberg will contribute significantly to attracting a wide audience to the research topics of the Montanuniversität. In addition to a recreation zone, there are also plans for a 'climate-friendly forest of the future', a 'tree species nature trail' and numerous knowledge stations on sustainable agriculture and forestry. The infrastructure of this area makes it possible to subsequently implement the research results in the field of sustainable agriculture with carbon in the form of experimental workshops, e.g. with school classes. This makes a significant contribution to the transfer of knowledge with 'brain, heart and hand' and thus further strengthens the enthusiasm for the technical-scientific topics of sustainability. In addition to soil cultivation, plant selection, biodiversity, cultivation and harvesting of vegetables, there is a wide range of possible workshops in which creativity can be combined with practice.

The first phase of implementation is planned for spring 2024. The project team is also hoping for active support from interested MUL employees when planting the trees for the climate-friendly commercial forest.