Tiny graphene sensors, which the researchers are calling “plant tattoo sensors,” are being taped to the leaves of plants, looking quite a bit like tattoos indeed. The sensors transmit data to the researchers about how quickly plants are moving water from their roots to their leaves and then releasing the water into the air.
“With a tool like this, we can begin to breed plants that are more efficient in using water,” said plant scientist Patrick Schnable. “That’s exciting. We couldn’t do this before. But, once we can measure something, we can begin to understand it.”
The research was documented in a paper entitled “High-Resolution Patterning and Transferring of Graphene-Based Nanomaterials onto Tape toward Roll-to-Roll Production of Tape-Based Wearable Sensors,” which you can access here.
The graphene-on-tape technology has already been used for other applications such as smart gloves, flexible mechanical sensors and sensor arrays.
The first step in the process is to use either molding or 3D printing to create indented patterns on the surface of a polymer block. A liquid graphene solution is then applied to the block, filling in the indented patterns. The excess graphene is removed with tape, and then another strip of tape is used to lift away the graphene patterns, creating a strip of sensors on the tape. The process can create patterns as small as five millionths of a meter wide, or one-twentieth the width of a human hair. According to Dong, the smaller the sensors are, the more sensitive they are.
“We’re trying to make sensors that are cheaper and still high performing,” said Liang Dong, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
It sounds easy, and it is – and it’s also inexpensive, fulfilling the researchers’ goal of making cheap, high-performing sensors.
“This fabrication process is very simple,” Dong said. “You just use tape to manufacture these sensors. The cost is just cents.”
For the plant tattoos, graphene oxide is used because of its sensitivity to water vapor. The presence of water vapor changes the material’s conductivity, which can be used to measure transpiration, or the release of water vapor, from the leaf. The plant sensors have been successfully tested in lab and pilot field experiments, and a new three-year, $472,363 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative will allow for more field testing of water transport in corn plants.
The Iowa State University Research Foundation has applied for a patent on the technology, and granted an option to commercialize the technology to EnGeniousAg, a startup formed by several of the researchers.
“The most exciting application of the tape-based sensors we’ve tested so far is the plant sensor,” Dong said. “The concept of wearable electronic sensors for plants is brand new. And the plant sensors are so tiny they can detect transpiration from plants, but they won’t affect plant growth or crop production.”
The technology could be used for many other applications, however, including sensors for biomedical diagnostics, checking the structural integrity of buildings, monitoring the environment or testing crops for diseases or pesticides.
Authors of the paper include Seval Oren, Halil Ceylan, Patrick S. Schnable and Liang Dong.
Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.[Source: Iowa State University]
Subscribe to Our Email Newsletter
Stay up-to-date on all the latest news from the 3D printing industry and receive information and offers from third party vendors.
You May Also Like
Battery 3D Printing Startup Sakuu Secures Japanese Spark Plug Leader for Ceramic Materials
As Bay Area startup Sakuu continues toward commercialization of its solid state battery (SSB) 3D printing technology, the company has secured a partnership with NGK Spark Plugs (TYO: 5334), a...
3D Printing News Unpeeled: Rocket Lab, Sierra Space, Caracol, 6K
We explore Rocket Lab and Sierra Space join alliance to help move troops and material via rockets for terrestrial transport, Sandhelden and Duffy London 3D printing a sand coffee table, Caracol...
Incodema3D Signals US Metal 3D Printing Scale-Up with 6K, Uniformity Deals
Incodema3D, an additive manufacturing (AM) services company specializing in the aerospace sector, announced two new projects recently, involving two different metal alloy powders. First, Incodema3D, which is headquartered in upstate...
UCLA Materials Scientists Awarded Grant for 3D Printed Batteries
The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) announced that a team of materials scientists at the university’s Samueli School of Engineering has received a grant to develop a new additive...