May 14, 2020. Previously published on: Engineering pioneers blog

Until about two months ago, the Sensing Systems for Sustainability students were designing and building sensing systems; one group working with soil, another with air, and two groups are working with different elements in water. When the corona crisis began the groups scattered over the earth, and Dr. Ercan had to find a new way for them to learn what sensing systems are about in a hands-on way. Instead of designing in groups, the students got a chance to work with existing data collected by various scientists and organisations.

Ruben, a third year science major, was originally part of the soil group. His interest in soil health is linked to his family’s veggie patch, as well as his interest in technology related to agriculture: smart plant pots which signal when the plan needs water, and pixel farming. And the future of food is also a concern of Ruben’s: “I believe food is one of the biggest issues of today and the future and spend time considering the sustainability of various food products”.

Right now Ruben is working with data collected by the GROW Observatory, a “sustainable citizen platform and community to generate, share and utilize information on land, soil and water resource”. Some of the variables Ruben is examining are moisture, air temperature, light intensity, and fertilizer. All these variables are part of the data which the group had originally planned on collecting with their own sensor systems.

Originally the goal was to explore fertilizer trends as influenced by soil properties and air conditions. Right now the aim is to be able to make predictive recommendations on the minimum amount of fertilizer that needs to be used for effective growth rates. So now Ruben will be analyzing how various levels of moisture, air temperature, and light intensity will influence the growth of a specific plant, and therefore also how much of an extra “push” (read: fertilizer) the plant needs.

Ruben is using Python do to all the analysis and plotting. In the end of May he will present his findings, so to be continued!