MIT Researchers Turn Plants into Lamps Using Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology, the study/manipulation of materials on the nanoscale, has helped fulfill the demand for food, medicine, water, energy, and other essential commodities. The application of this technology has progressed. Recently, scientists have started using nanoparticles in developing glowing plants.
If you are an avid reader, there’s some good news for you. What if you get something that has nothing to do with bulbs of any kind but still glow or produce light? It’s possible with nanobionic plants, that grow in the dark without electricity. This piece of information was something new and quite surprising for me – almost as surprising as the email promo I received for some Cox communications customer service So, let’s dig a bit deeper into these light-emitting plants.
What Are Nanobionic Plants?
These are the plants that have nanoparticles inside them, which impart these plants different characteristics. How was this plant discovered or invented you ask? professor Micheal Strano and Seong-Yeong Kwak of MIT alongside some research students experimented with embedding nanoparticles in a plant. They did so by imparting the nanoparticles into a watercress plant. The plant was able to emit a soft light for 4 hours!
Apparently, these plants can be charged as well. Another surprising quality of these plants is that when they are embedded with nanoparticles, they convert into genetically engineered plants. The team’s vision behind this invention was to make nanobionics efficient enough to enlighten their workspace. These plants can be used as low-intensity light-emitting sources.
Even if the plant gets 10 seconds of charging, it has the ability to sparkle for a long time. You can reenergize the plant more than once. These light-emitting plants that made their first appearance in 2017 are packed with nanoparticles that, like fireflies, convert the plant’s stored energy into light. According to Michael Strano, the transition makes nearly every plant a viable, possibly revolutionary technology. It offers lighting that isn’t dependent on the grid.
The team soon realize that they need help in expanding the concept and making it a part of the future of sustainable energy. So, they reached out to MIT’s professor of architecture, Sheila Kennedy who has done commendable work in the area of clean energy.
The Light Capacitor Approach
For several years, Strano’s lab has been researching the emerging subject of plant nanobionics. Nanoparticles containing luciferase and luciferin, which work together to give fireflies their shine, were used in their first generation of light-emitting plants. The researchers used these particles to create watercress plants that could emit low light for a few hours, approximately one-thousandth the amount needed to read by.
Strano and his colleagues set out to develop components that would allow light to last longer and be brighter in the new study. They came up with the idea of using a capacitor, which is an electrical component that can store and release electricity as needed. A light capacitor can be used to store light in the form of photons. It releases the light gradually over time.
The particles, which have a diameter of several hundred nanometers, can be injected into plants through stomata, which are microscopic pores on the surface of leaves. The particles collect in the mesophyll, a spongy layer where they form a thin coating. According to the MIT team, the mesophyll of a living plant may be manipulated to show these photonic particles without causing harm to the plant or surrendering lighting qualities.
The film can absorb photons from the sunlight/LED. The team found that after 10 seconds of exposure to the blue LED, the plant was able to emit light for an hour. The light produced was brightest for 5 minutes and diminished gradually.
The Scope & Future of Nanobionic Plants
The team plans to develop a way to paint/spray nanoparticles onto leaves to transform trees and make them a source of light. This is serious work, which will open doorways to the invention of street lamps. The researchers also believe it is possible to turn off the lights by adding nanoparticles carrying luciferase inhibitors. This could lead to the creation of plans that respond to environmental conditions like exposure to sunlight and darkness.
MIT is investigating ways for these plants to be engineered to make them function like electrical devices so that they could serve as their replacement in the future. The US Dept. of Energy funded a project to embed these plants with different nanoparticles to create plants that could detect explosives and even monitor conditions of droughts. This could be the start of something with huge potential!