Phytoelectronic soil sensing

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Engineering

Abstract

The research objective of this project is to accurately, densely and remotely measure the state of the soil using plants as in situ chemical laboratories. The sap of these "interrogator plants" will be analyzed by implanted bioelectronic sensors and remotely communicated by low-power radio interrogation. This approach will avoid the complexity of sensing the soil directly by instead detecting the chemical response of vascular fluids to chemical and biological changes of the soil around the roots. These fluids, which are transported by the woody xylem tissues, are under negative pressure and thus typically difficult to access. The project will thus investigate a number of regeneration techniques for surgically implanted, small sensors such that these sensors become grafted into the xylem tissue, much like fruit trees are currently grafted. The entire small sensor including implanted electronics and regenerative coating will be screen-printed for very low cost. Screen printing recipes and other enabling techniques will be shared with the public through the Open Science Framework. Public use of these results will be further fostered by funded kits distributed to teams through the international BioMaker and OpenPlant programs.

Planned Impact

Disadvantaged Colorado high school students will explore the integration of phytoelectronic sensors and Arduinos via massively online courseware created by the PI. Undergraduate Capstone students will contribute to the research by developing the custom RFID interrogator. Graduates will gain international research training by continuing the established exchange of students between the US and UK PI labs. Participation of under-represented groups will be increased by REUs of female physics students from a liberal arts school and the CU GoldShirt program for motivated and under-represented students.
Global dissemination of program results such as DIY screen-printing processes for phytoelectronic sensors will occur through the Open Science Framework. Public use of these results will be fostered by funded kits distributed to teams through the international BioMaker and OpenPlant programs. Researchers at the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute, Pretoria will apply project results to permanent soil monitoring in woody plants. This project is expected to be the first of many promoted through a newly established Phytoelectronics Working Group with BioMaker partners at the Kumasi Hive in Ghana, Mansoura University, Egypt; University of Pretoria, South Africa; Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia and University of Adelaide, Australia.

Publications

10 25 50