Measuring plant health across the world


Photosynq is a big project — we aim to create an open access database of plant health information from around the world by enabling researchers, educators, and citizen scientists to collect field data using their cell phones. Here’s how it works. We think we will be able to understand photosynthesis better, help plant breeders in developing countries improve their local varieties, create interesting and meaningful research opportunities to engage students and teachers, and enable bio-prospecters and travelers to find novel plants that might just help us solve our food and energy problems. I know, that’s a pretty expansive list, but check out a few examples of why this is a really neat idea.

We also have big dreams about the types of measurements we’d like to take – we already have a hand-held unit which can measure continuous or pulse modulated fluorescence (learn more about the science behind it here and here), but we plan also to measure other things which tell us more precisely how and where a plant is utilizing energy from the sun. Professor Kramer’s lab has been developing equipment to make these and many other measurements for over 15 years, so most of our efforts will be spent shrinking bench-top sized units to something that fits into the palm of your hand.

The current unit we’re working on now looks like this:

And here’s one on an algae bio-reactor.

Here’s a close up

It’s small enough, but it’s not quite designed correctly to be used with leaves and plants, and exposed electronics is never a good idea 🙂 So we’re working on V0.2, which will be designed for use with plant leaves specifically, and will have a much smaller footprint. We’re using a Arduino clone called Teensy as the microcontroller (the thing that controls the LEDs and detectors) and any Android phone to display and collect the data. We’re hoping to use the framework developed by to pull the sensor information off the Teensy, store it, and display and analyze it in interesting ways on your phone and on the web. Hopefully, V0.2 looks something like this (except replace the iPhone with an Android phone):

If your really serious, you can track all the nitty gritty details here.

More soon,

Photosynq Team

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