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PRS® Probes in the Classroom

Why do plants grow so well in some soils, but not others? What happens when compost or plant residues are applied to soil? How is nutrient mobility affected by changes in soil moisture or temperature? Do plant communities alter soil nutrient bioavailability?

PRS® Probes are used throughout the world by researchers to answer these questions and many others. These same questions can be explored by students using PRS® Probes, even in the absence of laboratory facilities. Students bury PRS® Probes under natural conditions or in simple experimental set-ups. After a burial period of one hour to one month, PRS® Probes are returned to Western Ag Innovations for analysis, with data usually available within one week.

Why are PRS® Probes ideal teaching tools in the classroom?

PRS® Probes have a number of characteristics that make them ideal tools to teach students about soil processes. PRS® Probes consist of an ion exchange resin membrane encased in a plastic holding device that can easily be inserted into soil with minimal disturbance. The rate of ion flux to the ion exchange membrane depends on the same factors controlling ion diffusion to plant roots. This rate is sensitive to soil physical, chemical and biological characteristics. PRS® Probes can also be buried for weeks, providing a time-dynamic measure of soil ion bioavailability. This highly adaptable tool is easily used in the field, greenhouse, growth chamber, or lab. Using PRS® Probes allows students to get hands-on experience with the same tool used by hundreds of researchers and agronomists each year.

Which factors affecting soil nutrient bioavailability can be studied using PRS® Probes?

  • Moisture
  • Temperature
  • Soil pH
  • Flooding
  • Burial duration
  • Soil amendments
  • Vegetation
  • Soil Depth
    • Topsoil vs. subsoil
    • Eroded vs. non-eroded soils
  • Soil texture (e.g., clayey vs. sandy soils)
  • Organic vs. mineral soils or soil layers
  • Soil landscape position (e.g., hill tops vs. depressions)
  • Burial duration
  • Soil Depth
    • Topsoil vs. subsoil
    • Eroded vs. non-eroded soils
  • Soil texture (e.g., clayey vs. sandy soils)
  • Organic vs. mineral soils or soil layers
  • Soil landscape position (e.g., hill tops vs. depressions)
  • Field history
    • Crop rotation
    • Fertilization
    • Liming
    • Manure History
  • Proximity to natural (e.g., lakes) or man-made (e.g., roads) structures
  • Interactions among factors

How to Obtain PRS® Probes for Classroom Use

  1. If you would like discuss with us how you can use PRS® Probes in your classroom, please contact an R&D coordinator and we will assist you.
  2. Once you are ready to order PRS® Probes for your classroom, please submit a proposal here with the following information:
    • Instructor contact information: name, position, affiliation, phone number, email, and street address
    • Class information: course name, number of students
    • Project objective, brief description of materials and methods, and expected outcomes. Projects should generally only require analysis of 10 to 20 samples.
    • Proposals should be submitted at least one month prior to anticipated class use.
  3. We will contact you to discuss feasibility and logistics. We may not be able to support all submitted proposals.
  4. We will send you PRS® Probes that are ready to use.
  5. PRS® Probes are installed as proposed, ensuring good soil-to-membrane contact.
  6. After a predetermined burial period (1 hour to 1 month), the probes are removed, thoroughly washed and sent back to Western Ag for analysis. In most cases, probes can be analyzed within 1 week of being received.
  7. Values of nutrient supply rates and technical support for their interpretation will be provided by Western Ag Innovations.

Pricing Information

A nominal cost will be charged for approved classroom projects. Please contact us for more information.