Biosensors for measuring agricultural inputs enabled by nanotechnology

Avoiding the overuse of agricultural inputs like pesticides can reduce costs and environmental impacts. To aid in this effort, Prof. Jonathan Claussen is applying his expertise in nanotechnology to graphene-based biosensors for measuring pesticide, fertilizer, and water use. View Halo Profile >>

Tell us about your research.

My research focuses on the fabrication of nanomaterials and nanostructured devices for a wide variety of applications including biosensors, energy harvesters, and cellular interface materials. My laboratory specializes in developing flexible and disposable graphene-based biosensors developed from inkjet and aerosol printing as well as through laser writing. These circuits are functionalized with biorecognition agents such as enzymes, aptamers, and ionophores for the selective detection of pesticides, fertilizers, performance biomarkers (e.g., lactate, glucose, and electrolytes), cancer biomarkers, and foodborne pathogens. We have also demonstrated how such circuits can be used to promote stem cell differentiation and to create thermoelectric energy harvesters.

My research focuses on creating new materials with extremely small nanoscale dimensions, that is materials that are 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Can you explain that to a non-scientist?

My research focuses on creating new materials with extremely small nanoscale dimensions, that is materials that are 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. We create many of these nanomaterials by chemically breaking up graphite that is found in your pencil into very tiny nanosized flakes called graphene. We then take these flakes, formulate them into an ink, and print them in a machine that is similar to an office ink jet printer. The printed circuits are flexible and durable. We convert these circuits into sensors that can monitor pesticides, fertilizers, sweet analytes like lactate, glucose, and electrolytes, cancer biomarkers, and foodborne pathogens by attaching distinct bioreceptors to the graphene. We also use graphene and other nanomaterials to help stem cells transform into nerve cells as well as to create devices that can convert heat waste into electricity.

Why did you choose this area of research?

My interest in nanomaterials and more specifically sensors really began during my undergraduate education in mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota. During this time, in the early 2000s, nanotechnology was beginning to emerge as a promising new field that could offer solutions to a wide variety of technologies including sensors. I soon became interested in sensors that could detect cancer or even neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s at an early stage when prognosis was still promising as both my father and grandmother passed away from these diseases respectively. Moreover, ever since I was a young child, I also was very interested in ensuring a clean environment and would make my parents recycle everything we could and would have them turn off the lights and faucets whenever possible to conserve energy and water. Applying nanotechnology to environmental sensors to help monitor and safeguard the environment also begin to intrigue me. Therefore, I decided to go onto to graduate school at Purdue University to learn more about nanotechnology and sensors to see if I could improve human health and the quality of the environment in which we live.

However, overuse of agricultural inputs has significantly harmed soil health and the health of the overall environment. My project will help create sensors that can be used to monitor these agricultural inputs.

How could your Grants4Ag project someday impact #healthforall #hungerfornone?

Efficient and sustainable farming techniques are needed to meet growing global food demands as population increase reduces available cropland and climate change inflicts additional stress on crops. Fertilizers, pesticides, and water irrigation are critically important agricultural inputs that are needed to meet current and future food demands. However, overuse of such agricultural inputs has significantly harmed soil health and the health of the overall environment. My project will help create sensors that can be used to monitor these agricultural inputs. In the future, we expect these sensors will be coupled with predictive models to monitor the dynamic changes in soil fertility across the entire farm field so that they can be used to precisely control the frequency and location of pesticide, fertilizer, and water inputs. Such a comprehensive sensor system could revolutionize the practice of commercial farming by boosting productivity while reducing costs and environmental impact.