New Mexico students research tomato vine treatments

Pull off fruit and leaves. Cut plant off at ground level and wash all soil from its roots. Take the plant top and roots to the lab. Weigh and measure the parts then wash, alternating three times between acid and water. Let dry. Divide the collection in half. Dry one half. Freeze the other half. That’s not a jam or cookie recipe. Those are directions for harvesting and processing the tomato vines in preparation for analysis with recently acquired spectroscopy instrumentation — all as part of an experiment being carried out by student researchers at Western New Mexico University.

Elizabeth Sorells and Michael Shaw are among the group of students exploring applications of nanomaterials in agriculture, thanks to a $142,000 grant WNMU received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Food and Technology in 2020 for the purpose of establishing a research program in nano-enabled agriculture at the rural institution not typically considered a research university but with a high level of student scholarship.

Sorells and Shaw planted tomato vines in natural soil collected from private property near the Mimbres River. Different groups of plants were treated with traditional agrochemicals and nanomaterials. One group received no treatment. One group received nano zinc with a mixture of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (fertilizer) while one received nano zinc minus the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. One group got zinc ion but not in nano form. And so on.

“The group with the nano zinc had fruit that ripened first,” said Sorells, who is pursuing a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies with focuses on biology and math. “I have gained so much appreciation for laboratory work and the scientific process,” Sorells said. “This research contributes to the scientific community as a whole and provides further insight to nano particles and nanotechnology, which is still a new concept.”

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