Research equipment

The research group Soil Science and Plant Nutrition has a wide range of methodologies and research equipment at its disposal to conduct an in-depth study of the interactions between roots and soil, particularly those involving soil microorganisms.

The research group strives for differentiated data and results, and as a result conducts experiments that differ not only by scale and duration – from hours to days, weeks, months and even years – but also by location, including field and laboratory experiments (some in conjunction with the NRW Chamber of Agriculture) as well as various tests in the University’s own Tropic Greenhouse, including pot and hydroponic experiments, climate chamber growth tests and incubation experiments.

Field research (and pot experiments to a certain extent) are supplemented with the following instruments:

  • Weather monitoring station (UGT)
  • Penetrologger (Eijkelkamp), for measuring root penetration resistance
  • Photoacoustic gas monitor (INNOVA) (for measuring CO2, N2O, CH4 and NH3 emissions in the field)
  • Photosynthesis measurement system (LICOR) (for measuring photosynthetic activity and soil respiration)

To investigate the impact of roots and abiotic stress on soil microorganisms, researchers are gathering data on microbial activity (soil respiration, enzyme activity, trace gas emission), microbial biomass (chloroform fumigation extraction, substrate induced respiration) and microbial composition (ergosterol, qPCR). The transfer of carbon and nitrogen from plants to soil will be measured by marking plants with stable isotopes (13C and 15N).

Analysis is conducted at both the plant and soil level. The plant level includes growth both above and below the surface.

Experiments are supplemented with the following instruments:

  • Dry matter, ash content of above and below-ground biomass     
  • Nutrient content, heavy metal content (ICP-OES, Perkin Elmer)
  • Photosynthesis measurement system (LICOR)
  • Chlorophyll measurement system (SPAD meter)
  • Leaf area meter
  • Root washing station
  • Root scanner (WinRHIZO)
  • Optical microscopes and binoculars
  • [Arbuscular mycorrhiza (staining)]
  • [Secondary plant metabolites (HPLC-MS)] 

The standard chemical and physical characteristics of soil (pH, ECe, carbonate content, CEC, aggregate sability, texture, water retention, nutrient content, heavy metals) are measured at regular intervals as well.

Analysis of the physical properties of soil, including texture, water retention, nutrient content etc., is conducted using the following instruments:

  • Penetrologger (aggregate stability, bulk density, penetration resistance)
  • DOC/TNb (Analytik Jena), for measuringTC and TN in solutions
  • Continuous Flow Auto Analyser (SEAL Analytical), for measuring nitrate, ammonium and nitrite
  • ICP-OES (Perkin Elmer), for measuring total nutrient and heavy metal content in soil and plants
  • Digestion block (Behr)
  • UV-VIS Spectrophotometers (Thermo Scientific)
  • Multiplate reader (BMG Labtech) for DNA and enzymatic determinations
  • Automatic titrators (SI Analytics)
  • Conventional, molecular-biological and optical methods of microbiology, in collaboration with the research group Hygiene and Microbiology
  • High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), used to measure ergosterol in collaboration with the research groups Chemistry and Foodstuffs Technology

Soil chemistry will be analysed using the following instruments:

  • pH, in situ redox potential, ECe, carbonate levels, SOM, DOC/TNb (Analytik Jena),
  • Particular organic matter (POM)
  • Total nutrient content (ICP-OES, Perkin Elmer)
  • Plant available nutrients e.g. PO4, SO4, NO3, NO2, NH4 (Seal Autoanalyser, Metrohm IC)
  • K, Mg, Na (ICP-OES, flame photometer), heavy metals (ICP-OES)
  • Cation exchange capacity

Soil biology will be analysed using the following instruments:

  • Microbial activity (CO2: titration, IR or photoacoustic; enzymes (photometer/fluorescence);     N-mineralisation; trace gases, photoacoustic: N2O, CH4, CO2 [INNOVA])
  • Microbial biomass (fumigation extraction, SIR, qPCR)
  • Microbial community structure: ergosterol (HPLC); fungi, bacteria, archaea (qPCR)
  • [Earthworm abundance]

Research group: Soil Science and Plant Nutrition