Down to Earth

Plants growing in SMAG soil

Water woes? Time to get down to earth!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Wide open sunlit lands, as far as the eye can see. Should be a great place to grow crops! Problem? the earth is dry and sandy in almost HALF of global farming lands. What should we do?

Enter Xinyi Zhou and colleagues from the University of Texas at Austin. They’ve developed something to help those thirsty crops get the water they need.

To wit: super moisture absorbent gels –  SMAG for short! These microparticles are mixed into soil to help it suck in water from the air at night, when it’s cooler. This water is then released during the warm day.

The researchers measured the water content in SMAG soil and normal sandy soils. After one week, untreated soil had just twenty percent of water left. Amazingly, SMAG soil kept FORTY percent of the original amount of water after FOUR weeks. Radishes grown in SMAG soil grew faster AND bigger!

Zhou thinks SMAG could help boost crops in drier regions!

Amazing! So…WATER we waiting for?

Reference: Zhou, X., Zhang, P., Zhao, F., & Yu, G. Super moisture absorbent gels for sustainable agriculture via atmospheric water irrigation. ACS Materials Letters, 2(11), 1419–1422 (2020).