Improving Farming with Graphene

In a move that shocked no-one, the versatile material graphene is now being used to improve farming, with new technology developed at Iowa State University. Ever since it was discovered, graphene has been used in more and more applications that can take advantage of its extraordinary super-strong, super-conductive properties, this latest one involves using it as a sensor to monitor the amount of water, as well as growing time, that plants require to maximize their growth potential.

How the Sensor Works

By using 3-D printing technology or through an advanced molding process, researchers have developed a process to form complicated patterns of graphene on a polymer block surface. Once the pattern is applied, a liquid graphene solution is coated onto the polymer block to fill the indented patterns.

Any excess graphene is removed with tape, with a second strip of tape then used to peel off the graphene pattern, resulting in a sensor on the tape. The sensor patterns have a width of less than five-millionths of a meter, with the finished ultra-small sensors made using tape, costing just pennies to make.

When in contact with water, the property of the material alters relative to conductivity, making the sensors themselves highly sensitive to moisture. This enables extremely accurate measurements of the transpiration rate of a plant. Scientists are excited to use this tape-based sensor to conduct research on farming methods, as it is the first practical example of a ‘wearable’ device to monitor growing conditions.

The graphene sensors detect critical information regarding how to optimize a growing environment and the methods used in growing. Crucially, the monitoring process itself in no way inhibits or disrupts the life of the plant itself.

It is technology like this that can allow scientists to closely monitor the presence of water at the roots of a plant, along with checking how that moisture progresses from the roots up to the lower-echelon leaves, all the way up to the top-level leaves on a plant, even if that plant is an 8-ft tall cornstalk.

With a tool like this, we can begin to breed plants that are more efficient in using water. That’s exciting. We couldn’t do this before. But, once we can measure something, we can begin to understand it.

Patrick Schnable, Iowa State Researcher.

More Wearable Sensor Technology

This new technology has been dubbed ‘plant tattoo sensoring’ by researchers, who are highly optimistic that it can be used across a wide variety of other applications and environments. In the near future the wearable sensor technology could be augmented with other sensors that can be used to detect pressure and strains. For example, smart gloves have already been developed which can detect hand movements and provide data about pressure and motion.

It is anticipated that in the not-too-distant future, wearable sensor technology built with graphene will be used in novel and important applications in fields such as biomedical diagnostics, in monitoring various aspects of a given environment, for monitoring structural integrity of high-rise buildings, and for monitoring crops for the presence of disease or reaction to pesticides.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Grolltex.

For more information on this source, please visit Grolltex.

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