Imagine if you could read in the dark by using the light of a glowing plant.
MIT engineers have taken the first steps toward making that vision a reality. They have done this by embedding specialized nanoparticles into the leaves of a watercress plant; they induced the plants to give off dim light for nearly four hours. The engineers believe that, with further optimization, such plants will one day be bright enough to illuminate a workspace.
“The vision is to make a plant that will function as a desk lamp, a lamp that you don’t have to plug in. The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself,” says Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and the senior author of the study.
This technology could also be used to provide low-intensity indoor lighting, or to transform trees into self-powered streetlights, the researchers say.
For future versions of this technology, the researchers hope to develop a way to paint or spray the nanoparticles onto plant leaves, which could make it possible to transform trees and other large plants into light sources.
“Our target is to perform one treatment when the plant is a seedling or a mature plant, and have it last for the lifetime of the plant,” Strano says. “Our work very seriously opens up the doorway to streetlamps that are nothing but treated trees, and to indirect lighting around homes.”
The researchers have also demonstrated that they can turn the light off by adding nanoparticles carrying a luciferase inhibitor. This could enable them to eventually create plants that shut off their light emission in response to environmental conditions such as sunlight, the researchers say.
To read more on the development of glowing plants and to watch a video on them, click on the link below.