Food pH sensor, developed by OARDC scientists, also may look deep in oceans

(LATE UPDATE: The team has made the first cut.)

A pH sensor originally developed by OARDC scientists for the food industry, designed to measure the acidity of food processed under high pressure, may end up serving double duty — by measuring the pH of water deep in the ocean, a place under pressure as well (literally, due to the weight of the water; figuratively, due to carbon dioxide-fueled ocean acidification).

A team led by Sudhir Sastry, professor in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, has entered the sensor in the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE competition. Along with entries from 17 other teams, the sensor will be tested in trials for its accuracy in measuring ocean water acidification.

The top contenders will move ahead to coastal and ocean trials in 2015. The international competition is offering $2 million in prizes, which will be awarded to the most accurate and affordable sensors.

Details on the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE competition. (Video: XPRIZE Foundation.)

“High-pressure food processing uses pressure about 10 times the pressure at the bottom of the ocean. We’re confident our sensor will work fine.”—Sudhir Sastry

Tester being tested: Can it take the pressure?

  • The competition aims to spur the development of new sensors to measure the acidification of ocean waters due to rising atmospheric carbon levels.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the ocean absorbs about a quarter of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. The agency says rising atmospheric carbon levels are changing the chemistry of seawater and hurting shellfish, fisheries and marine ecosystems including coral reefs.
  • The XPRIZE Foundation says current pH sensor technologies are too unstable, imprecise or expensive to provide sufficient knowledge on ocean acidification.

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