This plant models the latest carrying sensor (right) to monitor the loss of water from the leaves with a smartphone app (left). Credit: American Chemical Society

Plants cannot speak when they are thirsty. And visual signs, such as wrinkling or browning of the leaves, do not begin until most of their water has disappeared. To detect water loss earlier, researchers report in ACS application materials and interfaces have created a carrying sensor for the leaves of plants. The system wirelessly transmits data to a smartphone app that allows remote control of drought stress in gardens and crops.

Newer wearables are more than just step counters. Some smartwatches already monitor the electrical activity of the user’s heart with electrodes that sit against the skin. And because many devices can share the data collected wirelessly, doctors can monitor and evaluate the health of their patients remotely.

Similarly, plant-carrying devices can help farmers and gardeners remotely monitor the health of their plants, including the water content of the leaves, a key marker of metabolism and drought stress. Researchers had previously developed metal electrodes for this purpose, but the electrodes had trouble staying attached, which reduced the accuracy of the data. Thus, Renato Lima and colleagues wanted to identify an electrode design that was reliable for long-term monitoring of plant water stress while remaining in place.

Researchers have created two types of electrodes: one made of nickel deposited in a narrow, curving pattern, and the other cut from partially burnt paper covered with a wax film. When the team attached the two electrodes to the separated soybean sheets with clear tape, the nickel-based electrodes performed better, producing larger signals when the leaves dried.

Credit: American Chemical Society

The metal ones also held stronger in the wind, which was probably because the thin curving design of the metal film allowed more of the tape to bond to the surface of the sheet. The researchers then created a device for carrying plants with metal electrodes and attached it to a living plant in a greenhouse.

The device wirelessly shares data with a smartphone and website app, and a simple, fast machine learning technique successfully converts that data into a percentage of lost water content. Researchers say monitoring the water content of the leaves can indirectly provide information on exposure to pests and toxic agents.

As the plant-carrying device provides reliable indoor data, they now plan to test the devices in gardens and outdoor crops to determine when plants should be watered, potentially saving resources and increasing yields.

Chinese scientists are developing an extremely strong extensible electrode for E-skin applications

More information:
Julia A. Barbosa et al., Biocompatible carrier electrodes of leaves for on-site monitoring of plant water loss, ACS application materials and interfaces (2022). DOI: 10.1021 / acsami.2c02943

Provided by the American Chemical Society

Quote: New wearable technology – for plants (2022, May 4), extracted on May 4, 2022 from

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