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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Photo of Building 303

Instrumentation and Sensing Laboratory
10300 Baltimore Avenue
Building 303, BARC-East
Beltsville, MD 20705
Phone: 301-504-8450
Fax: 301-504-9466

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The laboratory conducts research to develop new and innovative instruments and sensors that are useful to consumers, agricultural producers and processors, and federal regulatory agencies, by applying state-of-the-art technologies of electronics, optics, computers, chemometrics, and signal and image processing. The laboratory conducts basic research to characterize the physical, chemical, and aesthetic properties of agricultural commodities. The laboratory devises nondestructive and rapid systems to measure attributes that are indicative of the postharvest safety and quality of commodities.

ISL History

In 1928, the Handling, Transportation, and Storage Section was formed at the Bureau of Plant Industry to handle all postharvest research throughout the U.S. The headquarters office was located in Washington, DC and the cold storage facility was built at the Arlington Farm. In 1939, construction was completed for Building 002 at the new Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland.

In 1957, a re-organization of USDA post-harvest biology and technology research programs resulted in the creation of three new laboratories that were located in Building 002 at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center but were transferred to administration under the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) rather than ARS: Quality Maintenance Investigations, Quality Evaluation Investigations, and the Instrumentation Laboratory. Karl Norris served as Research Leader of the Instrumentation Laboratory. Another re-organization later returned these laboratories to ARS administration.

In the 1960s, the lab saw the development of the first computerized near-infrared (NIR) spectrophotometer, which led to today's $50- to $100-million-a-year industry. NIR spectroscopy is a widely used non-invasive technique whose applications have included the measurement of protein, oil, starch and moisture in grains and oilseeds; hollow heart in potatoes, water core of apples; and fat concentration of milk, among many other uses.

The laboratory later became known as the Instrumentation & Sensing Laboratory and was relocated from BARC-West to its current location in Building 303 on BARC-East in 1990. Its research grew to include the development of methods based on spectroscopy and spectral imaging for grain inspection, for addressing safety and quality concerns for the processing of fresh fruit and for processing of fresh chicken carcasses. Yud-Ren Chen served as Research Leader from 1990 to 2007.

Current research at the laboratory uses and develops methods based on spectroscopy, spectral imaging, and new sensing technologies to address a variety of safety and quality concerns for the food and agricultural processing industries, including the development of spectral and optical methods and automated systems for food safety inspection for poultry processing, for inspection of and contaminant detection for fresh fruits and vegetables, for inspection/sorting of cereal grains, and contaminant detection methods for rapid or portable testing of food products and processing equipment.

A re-organization in 2007 created the new Food Safety Laboratory, which combined the Instrumentation & Sensing Laboratory and the Food Technology & Safety Laboratory with scientists from the Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory and the Environmental Microbial Safety Laboratory.

USDA-ARS Instrumentation & Sensing Laboratory
10300 Baltimore Avenue, Building 303 BARC-East, Beltsville, MD 20705
Phone: 301-504-8450, Fax: 301-504-9466

Last Modified: 8/6/2007
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