University-Industry Engagement Week

UT-Dallas industry partnership leads to ‘groundbreaking’ soil sensors

By David Schwartz
Published: March 21st, 2023

Working with their industry partner, bioengineers at the University of Texas at Dallas have developed sensors that monitor multiple soil parameters, including total soil carbon, to provide farmers with accurate, real-time, continuous data to improve soil health and productivity.

“This is the equivalent of having a wearable health sensor on your body that tells you in real-time what’s happening. Think of it as a wearable for the soil,” said Dr. Shalini Prasad, department head of bioengineering and professor in systems biology science at UT-Dallas. “We are excited about the potential for our soil sensors to provide more accurate testing of living soil in its ecosystem.”

Prasad, who has developed wearable sensor technology to monitor various human health conditions such as diabetes, received research funding through a two-year UT Dallas Intellectual Property Assignment/Sponsored Research Agreement with industry partner Soil in Formation (SIF), a public benefit corporation. In January, SIF sponsored additional research to advance the technology.

The school’s Intellectual Property Assignment/Sponsored Research Agreement model provides an industry sponsor the opportunity to own the intellectual property that results from a sponsor-funded research project. According to the university, giving the sponsor ownership of the IP upfront eliminates much of the risk and uncertainty around license negotiations and the subsequent financial obligations.

In a statement, UT Dallas calls the sensors “groundbreaking.” The sensors apply electrical stimulation to the soil and measure chemical reactions in reaction to the voltage. The technique developed by Prasad and his colleagues measures pH, moisture, volumetric bulk density, and the two main soil carbon pools — levels of soil organic matter and carbonaceous soil minerals — as well as total soil carbon.

Other soil testing methods work by digging up a sample and sending it to a lab, or using infrared methods or satellite, according to the school. But SIF wanted to develop a more direct and accurate method for testing soil as a dynamic, living ecosystem.

Henry Rowlands, the company’s R&D lead, said this new soil health monitoring technology developed by UTD researchers improves the accuracy and auditability of soil test results significantly.

“The sensors developed at UTD should provide data that farmers and other stakeholders can use to improve soil health and mitigate climate change by improving soil’s ability to draw down carbon from the atmosphere,” Rowlands said, adding that its capabilities have global implications. As soil quality declines due to harmful agricultural practices, the technology could play a role in enabling the improvement of soil health on a global scale, which also could help address food insecurity, he noted.

Source: Dallas Innovates

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week