• Dielectric characterization for agricultural and pharmaceutical applications using microwave techniques

    Principal investigator: Dr. M. Farhan Shafique
    Co-Principal investigator: Dr. Kashif Saeed

    Executive summary

    The proposed project aims to address one of the key challenges of dielectric characterization of solvents and biological materials within the pharmaceutical and agricultural industry. It is rather well-known that the dielectric properties of materials could be measured by using innovative microwave topologies to gain access to a wealth of information regarding the material including various other parameters such as the physiological and chemical changes. The technique involves exposing the material to microwave radiation and then acquiring the transmitted and the reflected signal to determine the propagation and attenuation constants of the wave as it progresses through the material. The acquired signals carry the information pertaining to the material and could be used to determine the contents. The field of dielectric characterization is well-known and many methodologies have been developed in the past. The aim of this project is to study and apply a novel class of miniature, compact and highly sensitive sensors to perform measurements on a range of materials.

    Accurate determination of the moisture contents of seed kernels such as wheat and barley is pivotal to the agricultural industry and plays a major role within the harvesting life-cycle of seeds from harvesting to packaging and retailing. An important challenge faced within the industry is the ability to determine the moisture contents on individual seed kernels independently with high accuracy and with less effort. Despite, current research into such problems the industry still lacks the technological advance that would resolve such problems. In this project a new class of miniature microwave sensors will be developed which could resolve such issues. The accurately determined moisture content could significantly increase the crop production by predicting the exact time for pesticide spray and would allow for optimum watering of crops. Moreover, the best harvesting time could be calculated with the characterization of a grain seed. These seeds can also be categorized according to their quality for a suitable application in a quick and handy manner.

    Another important application of this process is the characterization of solutions in pharmaceutical industry. Conventional spectroscopic methods traditionally require sufficient sample quantity to completely analyze the contents. However, the development of such sensitive miniature sensors would allow for characterization of liquids of volume less than a few nano-litres. An ultimate application of these sensors would be the diagnostic of precious liquids available in minute quantities. The cost-effective and disposable nature of the sensors would make them ideally suited to pharmaceutical industry.