By Josh Rhoten

Principal investigators
Greg Whiting; Jason Neff; Bob McLeod

ARPA-E; National Science Foundation (NSF); Natural Environment Research Council; U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Collaboration + support
Department of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering; Environmental Studies Program; Multifunctional Materials Interdisciplinary Research Theme in the College of Engineering and Applied Science; Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering

Researchers are designing a cheap soil sensor that can easily be tilled over at the end of the growing season while still providing high-quality information to farmers.

Ideally, these mass-printed sensors could be networked together, providing a real-time, detailed and holistic view of crops that would aid energy conservation and sustainability in a variety of ways. Farmers could double check fertilizer placement, for example, so the unused excess doesn’t wash into nearby water sources. Or growers could peek in on plant health measurements by regularly testing their sap to check potassium levels.

Crucially, while many sensors can help farmers with these problems today, the team’s final products would be made of organic materials that can be readily integrated into the soils or even inside plants. That means little disruption to the surrounding environment and less upkeep.

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