Mechanical & Materials Engineering, Department of


Date of this Version

Spring 4-22-2016


Kreis, K, Automated Mini-Channel Platform For Studying Plant Root Environments, (2016).


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, Under the supervision of Professor Sangjin Ryu. Lincoln, Nebraska: April 2016

Copyright © 2016 Kevin Frank Kreis


Plants are crucial to our lives; they provide us with building materials, oxygen, and food. A season’s crop yield can be significantly affected by local environmental factors. Farming practices currently focus on using fertilizer, pesticides, monitoring water availability, and genetic modification of the plant to increase crop yield. Improving fundamental understanding of plant root interactions with their local soil environment, or rhizosphere, will help improve crop yield. Studying such interactions is challenging because roots are underground, making it difficult to observe interactions and to manipulate the local soil environment.

The goal of this thesis is to develop an automated mini-channel platform to investigate how plant roots respond to changes in their environment. Corn seedlings were grown inside the transparent mini-channel device. The automated system maintains the level of growth medium in the device to ensure the plant stays hydrated. A digital camera regularly images the root growing in the device. The images are processed to characterize the root’s growth. The device accommodates electrochemical sensors to measure changes in nitrate concentration.

The automated platform was developed to simplify researching plant root-environment interactions, with the goal of improving crop yields. It measured corn’s growth rate over time, and determined that the con consumed nitrate over time. The platform’s adaptable design, simple fabrication, and low cost make it simple to replicate and use to study different plants and environmental stimuli. Improving our understanding of different plant root-environment interactions will be crucial in improving crop yields to match expected population growth.

Advisor: Sangjin Ryu