Electrodes attached to corn seedlings in the lab. (Photo credit: Yuxin Wu/Berkeley Lab)

Electrodes attached to corn seedlings in the lab. (Photo credit: Yuxin Wu/Berkeley Lab)

As advanced as agriculture has become, there remains a pressing need for nondestructive ways to “see” into the soil. Now the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has awarded $4.6 million to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) for two innovative projects to address this gap, giving farmers important information to increase crop yields while also promoting the storage of carbon in soil.

One project led by Yuxin Wu (a geophysicist in the Climate & Ecosystem Sciences Division (CESD)) aims to use electrical current to image the root system, which will accelerate the breeding of crops with roots that are tailored to specific conditions (such as drought). The other project led by Arun Persaud of the Accelerator Technology & Applied Physics (ATAP) Division will develop a new imaging technique based on neutron scattering to measure the distribution of carbon and other elements in the soil.

Eoin Brodie, CESD Deputy who will contribute to both projects says “both technologies could be transformational for agriculture⎯for quantifying belowground plant traits and where carbon and other elements are distributed⎯and will enable the next generation of predictive models for agriculture and climate.” These two projects are aligned with several of Berkeley Lab’s projects as well as the Lab’s Microbes-to-Biomes initiative, and are a key part of developing an entire nimble and networked ecosystem sensing system (called EcoSENSE)

Berkeley Lab researchers (from left) Eoin Brodie, Arun Persaud, Yuxin Wu

Berkeley Lab researchers (from left) Eoin Brodie, Arun Persaud, Yuxin Wu

Read more from the Berkeley Lab News Center (December 20, 2016) “Berkeley Lab Awarded $4.6 Million for Transformational Agriculture Technologies.”