MIT breakthrough could lead Glow-in-dark plants as passive lighting in smart cities

Today, MIT scientists have made another breakthrough by updating their study on glowing plants, which could see these plants replacing electric light in public spaces someday in near future.

In the study published in Science Advances, scientists claim that second-generation glow-in-dark plants had a 10% brighter glow than the first generation, without detrimental their health.

In 2017 the concept of studying glow-in-dark plants was introduced to develop a new type of passive lighting. In this research, the key components are luciferase, and luciferin (which gives a glow to fireflies) produces a very dim glow. The main aim of this project was to reduce energy consumption due to street lights, porch lights, storefronts, and many more by replacing them with glowing plants.

And to empower these second-generation glow-in-dark plants with new abilities nanoparticles are embedded in them, a phenomenon which is known as “plant nanobionics.

“We wanted to create a light-emitting plant with particles that will absorb light, store some of it, and emit it gradually,” says chemical engineer Michael Strano from MIT. “This is a big step toward plant-based lighting.”

A key element shifts to strontium aluminate used as a phosphor. Such materials absorb UV and visible light and store them and then release slowly in the form of phosphorescence. The nanoparticles of strontium aluminate are formed and silica is used to coat the microscopic spots to protect against damage. After that, they were inserted into the stomata and built a thin film inside the spongy mesophyll tissue layer.

A load of blue LEDs to nanoparticles for 10 seconds will allow the plant to glow for several minutes. And, then they were charged again. Also, in an experiment, about 60%of phosphor used was extracted and re-used. Also, according to research, plants continued to do photosynthesis normally and could evaporate water through stomata.

glow-in-dark plants examples

Moreover, MIT engineers managed to effectively operate the technology over five different plant species, including basil, tobacco, daisies, watercress, and elephant ear.

“We need to have an intense light, delivered as one pulse for a few seconds, and that can charge it,” says MIT nanoscientist Pavlo Gordiichuk. “We also showed that we can use big lenses, such as a Fresnel lens, to transfer our amplified light a distance more than 1 meter. This is a good step toward creating lighting at a scale that people could use.”

In the future, scientists are also planning to combine luciferase nanoparticles and light condensers to enhance brightness and life expectancy.

“Creating ambient light with the renewable chemical energy of living plants is a bold idea,” says MIT architecture researcher Sheila Kennedy. “It represents a fundamental shift in how we think about living plants and electrical energy for lighting.”

“If living plants could be the starting point of advanced technology, plants might replace our current unsustainable urban electrical lighting grid for the mutual benefit of all plant-dependent species — including people,” says Kennedy.

Hopefully, this bright innovation will light up the streets and other public areas soon. And we will see sci-fi turn into reality.


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