With its sloped ceiling and assorted gadgetry, OSU’s OPEnS (Openly Published Environmental Sensing) Lab has an industrial loft vibe. Electronics workstations provide tools for tinkering, students discuss prototype designs on a computer screen, and lab staff collaborate with a professor to sketch new ideas on a whiteboard. A 3D printer hums in the background as layer upon layer of melted plastic fuse together, making the latest iteration of a wind vane that can track temperature and humidity in addition to wind direction, pressure, and speed.
Focused exclusively on environmental sensing, the lab combines scientific expertise with technical innovation. John Selker, OSU professor of biological and ecological engineering, says the OPEnS Lab makes tools that help us better measure and understand natural and agricultural systems—things like soil samplers that read moisture and gas concentrations, or irrigation gauges that detect both the amount of rain and its rate of evaporation.
Those printed parts, however, aren’t the only product. The OPEnS Lab also freely publishes their designs online for the public to download, print, use, or—better yet—improve. With each upload, Selker hopes to empower individuals around the world to “take the design and run with it and make it theirs.” Working together—whether in the same lab or on different continents— farmers, faculty, students, and Extension agents can increase the cost-efficiency, ability, and accuracy of these innovative devices.