Precision agriculture is essential for greater efficiency in agricultural production without increasing the cultivated area. That is only possible with technologies allowing the rational use of fertilizers and herbicides, minimizing costs and environmental impacts. The controlled application of inputs requires the preliminary mapping of macronutrients in crop-growing areas, which generally involves sample analysis using conventional physical-chemical methodologies. Unfortunately, the costs and time involved in these analyses lead to a sample density below that required for proper nutrient mapping on the planting areas. The result is the over-application of fertilizers and herbicides and, in this context, we propose the development of a pioneer microfluidic device with very positive results obtained by Prof. Riul research group at the Physics Institute "Gleb Wataghin" (IFGW UNICAMP). We use a small amount of samples, facilitating field collection, moving towards the development of intelligent sensors that allow adaptable structures for in-situ macronutrient detection, remote monitoring for automated information and data transmission in real-time, via internet, with a control and analysis center for dynamic interaction and fast decision making before planting. The innovation in this proposal is the encapsulation of the sensorial units with advanced materials consisting of refractory metal nitrides and/or High Entropy Alloys (HES), materials developed in the Laboratory of Ion Implantation and Surface Treatments, also at the IFGW and led by Prof. Fernando Alvarez. The metal nitrides and LAEs will act as nanoscale molecular sieves, increasing the robustness of the sensorial units and contributing to a possible increase in selectivity to some macronutrients. Regarding the sensorial units, we also contemplate an international collaboration with Dr. Benedetta Maria Squeo, from the Laboratory of Polymers, Optoelectronics and Photonics at the Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie Chimiche "Giulio Natta" (SCITEC - Milan, Italy). Dr. Squeo's group synthesizes polymers with interesting electrical properties and specific functional groups that will enhance the sensitivity of sensory units and macronutrient recognition. We emphasize that the soil samples will be simply diluted in water, with no need for pre-treatments, with high potential for innovation in the formation of multifunctional devices, flexible and with properties adjustable to specific applications.
News published in Agência FAPESP Newsletter about the scholarship: