Grad student Kuan-Yu Chen prints sensors for real-time soil nitrate concentration monitoring

One of the electrical printers. Photo courtesy of Kuan-Yu Chen

Kuan-Yu Chen is a graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering at UW–Madison. Chen is working on a Hub-funded research project with soil science assistant professor Jingyi Huang and mechanical engineering assistant professor Joseph Andrews.

Farmers are under increased pressure to reduce nitrate leaching to groundwater, but measurement of nitrate flux to groundwater is cumbersome and expensive. There is a need to be able to rapidly, easily, and reliability monitor nitrate fluxes for on-farm assessment, testing effects of management, and improving biogeogeochemical models. Huang and Andrews propose a solution to this problem that involves simple, yet accurate in-ground sensors.

The main objective is designing, evaluating and manufacturing soil moisture and nitrate sensors in the lab and out in the field. The team with use novel nano-technologies and 3-D printing to manufacture these soil sensors and use independent field sampling and lab analysis of soil and water samples to evaluate the accuracy of the sensors in the field under different nutrient management practices (e.g., nitrogen fertilizer rates).

This project will install novel, affordable in situ real-time soil nitrate leaching sensing systems on Wisconsin dairy farms with the goal of more efficient use of N fertilizer on-farm and reduction in nutrient losses from intensive agricultural production to groundwater in Wisconsin.

Listen to Chen discuss more of the project in the video below.