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Portable Spectrometry Device Assesses Soil Health

Photonics.com
Aug 2017
LUBBOCK, Texas, Aug. 18, 2017 — A portable field sensor has been used to accurately measure minerals in soils more easily and efficiently than laboratory-based methods. The technique, known as portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometry (PXRF), was used to determine the calcium (Ca) concentration of 75 soil samples from four U.S. states. PXRF can provide data on about 20 different elements in 60 seconds.

Soil sample with calcium, measured using portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, Texas Tech University.
Extensive calcium carbonate accumulation engulfs this soil layer, making it difficult for plant roots to break through. Courtesy of David C. Weindorf/Texas Tech University.

According to soil scientists from Texas Tech University, the portable sensor provides an important analytical tool for the evaluation of soils containing Ca as part of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), which can damage the soil in excessive amounts. In addition to providing an advantage for soil scientists working in the field, it could help scientists and farmers in developing countries who cannot afford expensive laboratory tests, or don’t have the expertise to visually appraise the soil.

“Essentially, PXRF is another tool in the tool belt of the modern soil scientist, but it is by no means the only tool,” said Texas tech scientist David Weindorf. His daughter, Camille, participated in the research, scanning soil samples and helping her father perform the laboratory tests. She also helped calculate the summary statistics and write the paper.

Middle schooler using portable xray fluorescence spectrometry. Texas Tech University.

Part science fair, part hard-core science: Middle school student Camille Weindorf scans soil samples with a portable x-ray fluorescence (PXRF) spectrometer mounted in a hooded test stand. Courtesy of David C. Weindorf.

“I hope a project like this can inspire other students around her age to engage in original scientific inquiry,” Weindorf said. “Truly, they are the future [that] will keep our country at the forefront of scientific innovation.”

The research was published in Soil Science Society of America Journal (doi:10.2136/sssaj2017.01.0019).

GLOSSARY
spectrometry
The study and measurement of spectra and their components.
fluorescence
The emission of light or other electromagnetic radiation of longer wavelengths by a substance as a result of the absorption of some other radiation of shorter wavelengths, provided the emission continues only as long as the stimulus producing it is maintained. In other words, fluorescence is the luminescence that persists for less than about 10-8 s after excitation.
Research & TechnologyAmericaseducationSTEMenvironmentspectrometryTest & Measurementfluorescence

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