Developing smartphone-based infrared spectrometer for on-site soil nutrients sensing in low and middle-income countries (LMICs)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology


The global food challenge is the biggest danger to the planet, as the world population is projected to increase by more than 35% in 2050. To feed that population, food production must be increased at a greater pace than the population growth to have sustainable peace and stability, particularly in low and medium-income countries where the livelihood of more than 80% of the population depends on agriculture, food is not accessible for millions of people and productivity is very low. Therefore, this project will develop a low-cost smartphone-based infrared spectrometer for on-site measurements of soil nutrients, aiming to provide sustainable agriculture, food, and nutrition in resource-limited settings and mitigate the impact of climate change on the ecosystem.

The technical innovation of the project is that we will use optical lithography to design and fabricate turn-able photodiodes to different infrared wavelengths for specific molecular vibrations in the soil matrix. Then, the photodiodes will replace the need to use very expensive materials and design for fabricating bulk infrared spectrometers. Our new technology will replace the need for using a laboratory method for soil nutrients analysis that is very costly, laborious, and time-consuming and at the same time solve the issues of the limited access to laboratories and equipment in LMICs, thereby reducing farmers' exposure to risks and uncertainties. In this way, massive disparities between farmers in developed countries and low-income countries will be addressed since not all farmers are equally advantaged via soil testing facilities. Similarly, smartphone application will be developed for spectral acquisition, and processing in order to make the technology more user friendly and technically viable. The project is under the analytical science research area of the EPRSC.

We will collaborate with various research groups/centres at the University of Cambridge, Centre for Global Equality (CGE), and National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) during the development and field evaluation phase.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S023046/1 30/09/2019 30/03/2028
2408311 Studentship EP/S023046/1 30/09/2020 29/09/2025 Adam Muhammad Adam