Email Print Share

"Ground Control" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.

Iowa State researchers are working on creating high tech networks of underground sensors that could be buried throughout a farmer's field to supply the farmer with constant feedback on soil moisture and other ground conditions.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Getting The Dirt (SOUND EFFECT: shovel) On -- Well, The Dirt.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Iowa State researchers are working on a high tech underground -- literally, underground (SOUND EFFECT: outdoor farm) in sprawling farm fields. They're getting their hands dirty because they believe there could be a better way for farmers to monitor soil conditions.

The idea is a network of wireless soil sensors. Devices buried throughout the field that could give growers constant feedback on soil moisture, and other factors.

The prototype sensor, about the size of a business card, has no antenna or wires. An array of them would be planted deep enough in the ground (SOUND EFFECT: tractor) so that farmers should be able to plow, sow, reap, till, and do what farmers do, without bumping into them. The team even designed a locator system so you can dig 'em up later.

Spaced about 80 to 160 feet apart in a grid, the sensors would transmit data back to a central computer that generates hi-res, real-time condition reports. Uh, soil snapshots. Dirty pictures? (SOUND EFFECT: cow moos) These could help farmers use just the right amounts of water and fertilizer to maximize crop yield -- and minimize costs.

The next step? The researchers are building and testing a working network of sensors to be able to fine-tune, expand and maximize its capabilities.

It's field work. In this case, in a real field. (SOUND EFFECT: rooster crows)

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.