Underuse of pesticides can harm crops, while overuse can result in runoff into soil or waterways. A team of researchers at Iowa State University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering helped farmers determine how much pesticide to use by creating a flexible, low-cost, disposable biosensor that can detect pesticides in soil. This biosensor is made of graphene, a strong and stable nanoparticle. The sensor provides instantaneous feedback, saving the time and money it would otherwise take to send a sample to a lab and await results. The biosensor is made by printing graphene ink onto paper. A laser then traces over the ink to improve its electrical conductivity by welding together flakes of the graphene ink, making a nanostructured surface that is three dimensional. By dipping the biosensor into a slurry of soil and water, like a pH test strip, farmers can get results quickly and understand how much pesticide they need to maintain healthy crops, minimize environmental damage, mitigate pesticide resistance, and save money by not purchasing and using too much pesticide.
NIFA originally published this impact in the NIFA 2016 Annual Report. Want to read about more impacts like this? Check out Fresh from the Field, a weekly bulletin showcasing transformative impacts made by grantees funded by NIFA.