UN World Water Development Report predicts an increase in water demand in agricultural sector by 70-90% without improved methods to satisfy the basic feeding demand of the growing world population. Moreover, global climate change is causing steep rise in temperatures, increased temperature variability, changes in levels and frequency of precipitation, a greater frequency of dry spells and droughts and increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. These problems collectively result in plant growth retardation and an overall increase in the stress level of the plants. Stressed plants become susceptible to disease, insect infestation and other maladies causing loss in both quantity and quality of the agricultural produce. Therefore, it is essential to establish a fast, accurate and a non-invasive technique for quantitative assessment of plant hydration levels. This will further help in implementing ‘smart’ irrigation management reducing water usage and wastage in agriculture.
This project will explore spectroscopy and imaging using terahertz (THz) range (3000 – 30 µm in wavelength or 0.1 × 1012 – 10 × 1012 Hz in frequency) which is an extremely sensitive non-contact, non-invasive technique to measure hydration levels. Several representative plants having specific hydration schemes that are available both in Australia and India, such as, mango, banana and bamboo will be initially studied with broadband, THz time-domain spectroscopy and imaging set-up. Standardization protocol and calibration charts of transpirations of all plant species under study will be prepared under normal and drought conditions. In the second phase, high power THz sources working in a relatively narrow frequency range will be used to target the high-frequency THz water signature. This will result in increased image resolution required in a practical, field deployable instrument that can accurately map the water uptake and release by plants.
This programme brings together the unique combination of expertise and facilities at two internationally-leading research groups to develop an innovative technology for broad-scale hydration level surveillance of crop plants of significant economic and societal impact both in India and Australia. We will develop a novel terahertz (THz) frequency tool for surveillance of hydration levels in crops and estimating the need of irrigation to introduce new best-practice control strategy in agriculture. Furthermore, by leveraging the world-class expertise in developing THz laser and time domain THz imaging systems at both UQ and IIT-D, we will explore the applicability of our new platform to the standoff irrigation management surveillance in real, field applications.
The development of the proposed platform-technology for monitoring of hydration levels operating at multiple THz frequencies will have far-reaching impact encompassing academic, economic and societal aspects. Technology will have immediate and disruptive impact in reducing the true burden of water wastage during crop production in both countries.
Academics will also benefit in the field of THz metrology associated with molecular spectroscopy (with applications in plant biology and agriculture), through the use of these fast and sensitive spectroscopic systems.
There is potential for significant economic and societal impact through the translation of these technologies to industry, the licensing for manufacture by Indian and Australian industries, and through the creation and growth of engineering companies.
Both IITD and UQ have a strong track record of industrial collaboration, protecting and licensing IP, and marketing of technologies. Rakic group at UQ is undeniably one of the premier research groups in laser-feedback interferometry worldwide, with a numerous research world-firsts in LFI sensors and a close working relationship with L3 Micreo Ltd, a subsidiary of L3 Technologies based in Queensland, Australia. The group also boasts the only dedicated THz QCL facility in Australia, which has been previously supported through ARC grants and the Advance Queensland Research Fellowship scheme. Overall this AU$3.8M facility consists of 150 m2 of laboratory space dedicated to LFI sensor development spanning the visible, infrared and THz regions of the spectrum.
This programme will also generate impact through the creation of a vibrant inter-disciplinary research environment across UQ and IITD sites that will through UQIDAR attract and retain outstanding young researchers who will grow to be future academic and industrial leaders in India and Australia, and advocates in science and engineering. PhD students associated with this programme will visit and work at partner sites for joint experiments, simulations and discussion, leading to the sharing of skills and the dissemination of scientific outcomes to aligned research programmes at these sites. The proposed research will give rise to publications in leading scholarly journals in the fields of photonics and terahertz engineering including Optics Letters, Optics Express, Applied Physics Letters, and IEEE Transactions on Terahertz Science and Technology. We also anticipate communicating our research outcomes at premier international conferences in the field. Additionally, we will promote open access to our research findings, and plan to communicate research results both within and beyond the academic community.