Innovation That Matters

Carbon ink | Photo source Pixabay

Printable electric sensor monitors plant hydration


A team of engineers designed a carbon ink that monitors a plant’s reaction to heat and light, providing an early warning for drought.

Designed by a team of engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the electronic ink sensor is made from dissolved carbon nanotubes. The ink does not hurt the plant and is printed across a single stomata (pore) on a leaf. The stomata opens whenever the plant comes into contact with light and heat in order for the plant to intake carbon dioxide and release oxygen and water when necessary. By tracking the opening and closing times of the pores, a farmer could predict – far earlier than by visual detection alone – when drought conditions are imminent.

The electronic circuit within the ink breaks when the stomata opens, providing scientists with real-time cyclical data. As water availability decreases, plants take longer to open their stomata and less time to close them. The team believes the invention would be of interest to home gardeners as well as commercial farmers and is currently working on ways of speeding up the application process by using stickers to apply the sensor. The researchers are also working on expanding the use of the design to include light detection and image capture.

Worldwide, food production and consumption are fairly imbalanced, with many communities at risk of starvation while in others, excess amounts of consumables are wasted. Helping farmers identify potential disease outbreaks with an AI-powered app is one way technology is helping to improve crop production, and turning waste products into biofuel is one way parts of the industry are improving sustainability. What would help make autonomous technology affordable for all farmers to benefit from?




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