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Photo of Bhuvana Krishnaswamy
September 15, 2020

Krishnaswamy part of NSF grant to investigate soil health using sensor networks

Written By: Jason Daley

Bhuvana Krishnaswamy, an electrical and computer engineering assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has received a grant from the National Science Foundation to support work developing wireless sensor networks to help create underground soil maps.

The principal investigator for the project is Supratik Guha, a molecular engineer at the University of Chicago. Krishnaswamy will serve as co-principal-investigator along with Roser Matamala Paradeda, a terrestrial ecologist at Argonne National Laboratory.

The three-year project, supported by a $1,199,618 grant, is called The Soil Macroscope: A Multivariable Subterranean Sensor Network; it is funded through the Signals in the Soil program, an NSF initiative to make transformative advances in our understanding of soils.

The team is developing wireless algorithms for sensors that will be deployed in a test bed constructed at Argonne National Laboratory.

Researchers still have a poor understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological transformations and cycling of soil and its impact on soil and plant health. By deploying scalable and affordable sensor networks, researchers believe they could finally collect that data, leading to potential revolutions in agriculture, soil science and ecosystem research.

The first step, however, is to develop a robust underground sensor network. Krishnaswamy, who researches wireless networks, is excited to bring her expertise to the project where she will be developing communication algorithms that are low-power and traverse through soil and air over long distances.

“The Soil Macroscope project will provide a deeper understanding of soil’s biogeochemistry through orders-of-magnitude improvements in the size and resolution of collective soil data. Its end-to-end underground sensor networks will gather soil data in real time, at root zone depth, and at high spatiotemporal resolution,” says Krishnaswamy.

It’s also a chance for exciting cross-disciplinary collaboration. “This proposal has brought together communities that do not typically interact. We are excited to see the practical use-case of low-power wireless networking research performed within our laboratory settings in real field deployments,” she says. “I strongly believe that this collaboration will be an inspiration for the students involved, to understand and appreciate the impact of their work; and embrace the essence of Wisconsin Idea to serve the citizens of the state and the country through their research and learning.”