Art and science bring general public tomato of the future

During Expeditie NEXT, a new science festival from NWO on 2 May 2019, scientists share their research with a larger audience. Associate professor Rashmi Sasidharan is one of the researchers involved on behalf of Utrecht University. Together with artist Chloé Rutzerveld, she brings the tomato of the future to the festival with an artistic installation.

Animatie van het kunstproject ‘Tomaat van de Toekomst’.The 3D image of a tomato plant

Science and speculation

The installation consists of a large touchscreen with a 3D image of a tomato plant. Visitors can use the sliders on the screen to change the "environmental factors" of the plant, such as the humidity and the concentration of CO2. Both the plant and the tomatoes immediately change shape and color. The effects of environmental factors are exaggerated, but in principle based on scientific knowledge: science with a layer of speculation.

Perfect tomato

"With the installation we want the general public to experience that our food is highly dependent on environmental factors," says Rutzerveld. “I think a lot of people don't realize that. If you play with those factors you get very different products. What are the limits then? It is very easy to experiment with this at home. How do you grow your perfect tomato? Ultimately, we might start cooking with growth recipes instead of products."

Animatie van het kunstproject ‘Tomaat van de Toekomst’.The plant changes when the environmental factors change

Intuitive and attractive

For the scientific basis, Rutzerveld asked Rashmi Sasidharan for help. The associate professor was happy to cooperate, and mobilized her colleagues within the Institute of Environmental Biology to provide input from their areas of expertise. "It is a new and effective way to bring our research to the attention of the wider public," she says. PhD candidate Tom Rankenberg, who is present during the science festival to answer questions from visitors, is also enthusiastic: “It looks super cool and it is very educational. I even think it's good that the effects are exaggerated, because that makes it more intuitive and attractive.”

The installation can be seen for three months from July 2019 during an exhibition at NEMO and will then continue to travel.