UTC researcher creates novel nanofertilizer, ushering in new future in sustainable farming.

A researcher from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) is using her knowledge of nanochemistry to solve some of the world’s most difficult agricultural challenges with the creation of an innovative fertilizer formulation.

Soubantika Palchoudhury has been an assistant professor in chemical engineering at UTC since 2017 but first arrived on campus as a visiting and assistant professor in 2015. Her research focuses on nanochemistry, which she uses as a tool in biomedical, energy and agricultural applications. In her lab, Palchoudhury developed a micronutrient-based, sustainable nanofertilizer that is applied to seeds during the pre-germination stage. This treatment results in enhanced growth by anywhere from 200 to 830 percent.

Palchoudhury’s technology is novel and sustainable because, rather than using nanoparticles as the delivery agents for fertilizers, her nanoscale micronutrient formulation is the nutrient itself.

“We have all the micronutrients inside that nanofertilizer, and we apply it in just a single drop at the pre-germination stage instead of applying it on the soil or in the water, making it more environmentally sustainable,” said Palchoudhury.

Dr. Soubantika Palchoudhury, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Palchoudhury’s interest in agricultural applications for her technology hits close to home – Her grandparents had small farms in India, which prompted Palchoudhury to use her background in nanochemistry to solve significant agricultural problems. Though she has primarily focused on key North American crops like soybean and corn, she believes the technology has potential for a wide variety of plants. Ultimately, Palchoudhury wants to build more synergy between farmers and farming practices, tailoring the technology to meet the specific needs of individual farms.

“Some areas of the world have deficiencies in water or other micronutrients,” said Palchoudhury. “If we can use and engineer technology to meet those deficiencies, we can solve world hunger and enhance the agriculture market.”

Palchoudhury is grateful for the support of UTRF while developing her technology, especially her early conversations with UTRF Technology Manager Nghia Chiem, who provided key insights into how to commercialize her technology.

In March 2020, UTRF filed a provisional patent application and a U.S. patent application in March of 2021. During the summer of 2020, Palchoudhury participated in a five-week virtual Food and AgTech Bootcamp, hosted by AgLaunch, the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, Sync Space, and The Biz Foundry. Soon after, Palchoudhury co-founded S&J NanoChemicals, Inc., an agri-tech startup based on her technology, with her husband Dr. John Melnyczuk.

From a family of professors, Palchoudhury always knew she wanted to go into research and academia, but she didn’t realize she wanted to start her own company until she made her nanofertilizer discovery.

“One thing that was a turning point for me was when I realized this technology is very novel,” said Palchoudhury. “I felt that given my work with the technology and knowledge of its behavior, I would be the best person to prepare the technology for market and to take it to the next level.”

Thanks to a Maturation Grant received from UTRF, a large international company is currently conducting field trials with the nanofertilizer on a two-acre farm in Auburn, Alabama.

“Dr. Palchoudhury’s technology is groundbreaking and her dedication to her work is remarkable,” said UTRF Vice President Maha Krishnamurthy. “Her research represents one of the best parts about UTRF’s work: Helping novel innovations flourish outside of the lab and in the real world.”