Below are a few questions we are hearing frequently. We will add to this list as other common queries get asked.
A Refractometer, or Brix Meter, has been the best tool available for assessing the relative quality of fruits and vegetables for many generations. Refractometers measure the dissolved solids in liquids, including sugars, vitamins, minerals, proteins, hormones, etc., and offer a general measurement of how much nutrient activity is present in the plant leaf or harvested fruit. In order to use a refractometer the crop must be squished or juiced to get a reading - which is problematic for two reasons: 1) some veggies are hard to get juice out of, physically speaking (think about using a garlic press to squeeze a single drop of liquid out of a winter squash!) and 2) ideally, we still want to be able eat our food after measuring the nutrients. The Bionutrient Meter, a handheld spectrometer, is a non-invasive tool that works through the principle of spectroscopy. Every element or compound in chemistry vibrates as a certain frequency in physics. A spectrometer, by flashing a light at a crop and then reading the light that bounces back, can assess levels and ratios of a broad spectrum of elements and compounds in that crop. Inherently then, it has the ability to assess much more than a refractometer, and give a much more sophisticated analysis of what it is assessing.
Right now all it tells us is the spectrum of light that bounces back to the sensor from the photo-diodes. Our hope is that by building a large enough data set this coming year with the early-adopters who purchase and use this version, along with our lab data, and meta-data sets we will be able to to have a second version of this tool available in December 2019 that can give any consumer a relevant reading of how nutritious a crop is with a flash of light. As in, take out the tool, flash it at a carrot or apple or rice or meat etc in the grocery store, and be able to discern beyond the label relatively how nutritious it is in real time.
Our nutrient testing tool operates along the same principle as the SCiO, except that the SCiO looks only at the NIR (near-infrared), and while the Bionutrient Meter looks at UV/VIS/NIR (ultraviolet, visual, and near-infrared). With every chemical element or compound vibrating at a different frequency, the Bionutrient Meter provides a view into a broader spectrum of information. Also, SCiO is a closed-source, proprietary model, whereas the Bionutrient Meter is patently open. This Bionutrient Meter works on leaves, roots, fruits, soil, liquids etc. Both leaves of a growing plant and from those found in the supermarket can be assessed. We don't only want to be able to help consumers identify relative quality, we deeply want to support growers in their understanding of what's going on with the plant as it grows, and which actions they can take to be the most supportive to it.
The readout from the bionutrient meter currently looks something like a stock market report for the day – a series of peaks and valleys on a graph. The x and y axis representing the intensity and frequency of the signal.
We are using a 3-D printer for the case, and have contracted a factory in China to build the boards. Assembly and calibration occur at the Real Food Campaign Lab in Michigan. For an inside look at the production process, visit https://lab.realfoodcampaign.org/making-a-bionutrient-meter/.