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An innovative attempt is being made by scientists in Gujarat to develop a water-conserving farming technique than can better Israel's drip-irrigation system. Two universities in the state have developed an artificial "molecular-blanket" or a "nano-film" that can prevent water-evaporation from soil by 90 percent.
"By using this molecular blanket, we have been able to prevent evaporation loss by 90 percent and we have also discovered that the plant tends to grow 50 percent faster and taller, said Professor Dinesh O Shah, founding director of Dharmsinh Desai University (DDU), that is collaborating with scientists of the Anand Agricultural University (AAU) on develop this technique.
Shah, a former professor emeritus of Chemical Engineering and Anesthesiology at University of Florida, is currently heading this research on molecular blanket which is a thin "nano-film" of material developed using the same substance used in water-proofing of concrete. This film, which is nothing but a "hydrophobic capillary wall", when applied to the soil prevents large-scale evaporation losses, says Shah who was in the city to deliver the Father Herbert D'Souza Memorial Lecture on 'World of Surface Science and Nanotechnology' at St.Xavier's College on Monday.
"In collaboration with AAU, we grew 'chana' (gram) in beakers containing soil that was covered with this molecular blanket, and we found that plants grew 50 faster and taller than a normal plant. The number of leaves on these plants were also 16 times more compared to a normal plant," said Shah who has contributed to nine patents and 250 research papers.
"This is the next best thing to the drip-irrigation-system popularised by the Israeli's. Molecular blankets are the future of water conservation, especially when water is becoming more and more expensive," Shah said adding that the nano-film developed by them is not an expensive one. "It needs more field trials," he added.
Shah said that the team of scientists working with him were now looking to develop this nano-film from a "bio-degradable material". "We are now trying to develop a biodegradable molecular blanket which will disintegrate in 6-8 months and will thus allow water to seep in the soil during the monsoon.