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Researchers at ISU Develop Sensors to Help Farmers Understand How Much Nitrogen and Water Their Crops Need

AMES, Iowa  --  "So, we've developed these graphene-based water sensors at Iowa State University," said Michael Castellano, a professor of Agronomy at ISU. "They fit on a leaf, put them right on the leaf of a corn plant, and it tells you how much water is leaving the leaf. It gives you the vapor right at the leaf."

Castellano has equity and managing interests in a start-up company EngeniousAg that sells sensors through an exclusive license from ISU.

"We're creating wearable plant sensors that actually go on the plant, go into the plant, go into the soil, and go in the environment, as well, to make continuous or instantaneous measurements," said Castellano.

The sensors are just like wearable human health sensors, but for plants. The sensors are brand new and they're just becoming available commercially. Castellano says they will revolutionize the world of agriculture.

"This is going to have a tremendous impact on agriculture, because measurements that farmers used to take, mail to service labs, and wait for a week for results, now they can have the results in their hand instantaneously whenever they want," said Castellano.

It's all done through a smartphone.

"As you'll notice, there's no digital interface on the box the sensors hook up to," said Castellano. "It hooks up through Bluetooth to your smartphone. Your smartphone has an app and it gives you all the data. It records the data automatically for your future use. You never lose it."

There are a variety of different sensors that have been developed, and they are not expensive; some cost as little as $1 a piece.

EngeniousAg will have a booth next week at the Iowa Power Farming Show, Tuesday through Thursday, taking orders for the sensors.