Luminous plants will provide free lighting for public areas

Lighting accounts for a very large portion of electricity consumption, so researchers at MIT decided to look for passive light sources that could replace at least some incandescent bulbs in public places.

In their latest experiment, they turned their attention to the possible use of glowing plants, which we have seen before, but their illumination was not sufficient for the intended purposes. As a result, a modification was required, but this was done without any major problems and at the same time without harming the health of the plants. Plant nanobionics, as it’s referred to here, is a rapidly growing field that equips plants with nanoparticles that give them entirely new capabilities – just imagine sci-fi movies or video games where characters swap out body parts for “enhanced” ones.

Previously, MIT researchers had already developed plants that sent out an electrical signal if they needed to be watered, spinach that could be used to detect explosives, or watercress that glowed in the dark. The latter originally glowed more or less like the colorful stars attached to the walls and ceilings of children’s rooms, so it was only suitable for decoration, but after a few modifications, mainly changing the component from luciferase and luceferin, which allows even skylights to glow, to phosphors, which are materials that absorb and store ultraviolet light, which they then release as phosphorescence.

– Creating ambient lighting through the renewable chemical energy of living plants is a bold idea. It represents a fundamental shift in our thinking about plants and electricity for lighting, says Sheila Kennedy, an author of the study. In this particular case, the team reached for nanoparticles made of strontium aluminate coated with silicon so they wouldn’t damage the plants. These were inserted through the pores of the plants so that when the plants are exposed to the sun or LEDs, they begin to glow green.

The team tested the method on a variety of plants, such as watercress, tobacco, basil, collocasia cz daisies, and found that after just 10 seconds of exposure to the light, the plants would later glow for up to an hour, gradually losing intensity. The light was also 10 times brighter than in the first version of the watercress and, importantly, the particles did not actually damage the plants or the processes occurring in them, such as photosynthesis or evaporation of water by the leaves. So if the next versions keep getting better and better, before long we will actually be able to replace some of the lighting on the streets, making them not only environmentally friendly, but also definitely prettier.

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