Microbial potentiometric sensor array measurements in unsaturated soils

Scott R. Burge, Kiril D. Hristovski, Russell G. Burge, Daniel Saboe, David A. Hoffman, Steven S. Koenigsberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The overarching goal of this study is to demonstrate a novel technology for monitoring changes in electrical potential of unsaturated soils using biofilm-populated electrodes. The novelty of the study stems from the fact that it demonstrates a method for measuring open-circuit potentials (OCP) in environments without the presence of an electrolyte solution. This study also reveals that using a biofilm-populated electrode as a reference in stable environments could successfully be employed to assess and monitor the electrochemical potential generated by plants and microorganisms. The findings imply that long-term (months to years) and real-time measurements of the open-circuit potential in unsaturated soils are possible. Because MPS arrays can directly measure open-circuit potential from the biofilm, the challenges related to locally induced electrochemical changes caused by microorganisms in the soil to achieve optimum physiological levels are eliminated. The simplicity of the technology, which allows for multiple indicator electrodes to be referenced against an “internal” reference electrode, enables spatial-temporal monitoring of the changes in the soil and the generation of 2D- or 3D-signal patterns. Once a signal pattern, generated by an array of sensors, develops (usually after 30 to 90 days), it does not significantly change unless the soil is exposed to external stimuli. The observed OCP phenomena, however, suggests that the change in OCP signal is independent of changes in soil conductivity resulting from the addition of water. In brief, findings suggest that the proposed technology can enable multidimensional profiling and long-term monitoring of changes occurring in unsaturated soils without direct implications of presence of water. The changes in the 2D or 3-D signal patterns, however, can be correlated to other important parameters that characterize soil health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number142342
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Jan 10 2021


  • Array
  • Microbial
  • Open-circuit potential
  • Sensor
  • Unsaturated soil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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