Our world every day is inching towards an eco-friendly and energy-efficient era. In the same pursuit, scientists at MIT have come up with the idea of passive lighting. We all know that lighting consumes a considerable amount of energy; therefore, glow-in-the-dark plants can be something we can look forward to. This addition can be made to the plants without disturbing their original characteristics.
Plant nano-bionics is a field that has not been treaded upon very often. Nanoparticles are implanted, giving plants characteristics that can be of extreme help. For example, the team working on the passive lighting has already come up with plants that can send electric signals if they need water, spinach for bomb detection, and watercress that glows in the dark.
While the last one was intriguing, the light wasn’t much bright, similar to the glowing plastic stars that many of us hung from our ceilings as children. It’s fun, but it doesn’t contribute much to the final use of passive lighting.
The brightness has now been increased to more realistic levels. The idea was to replace the luciferase and luciferin components that give fireflies their glow with phosphor materials. These materials absorb visible and ultraviolet light and store it before releasing it as phosphorescence.
“Creating ambient light with the renewable chemical energy of living plants is a bold idea,” says Sheila Kennedy, an author of the study. “It represents a fundamental shift in how we think about living plants and electrical energy for lighting.”
The scientists employed nanoparticles composed of strontium aluminate as the phosphor during the study and covered them in silica to keep them from affecting the plants. These are then injected into the leaves through pores, eventually accumulating in a layer known as the mesophyll.
The plants will glow green after the Sunlight or LEDs exposure. The technology was tried on several plants such as cress, tobacco, basil and ephemeral ears. The experiments revealed that the plants glow for up to an hour after only 10 seconds of Blue LED contact. In the first few minutes, the light will be at its strongest before fading away the next hour.
The light was ten times stronger than before, and the nanoparticle implants didn’t interfere with the plants’ usual processes, such as photosynthesis and water evaporation through their leaves.
The team’s ultimate goal is to create glowing plants that might be used to passively light up roadways or other public places, lowering the energy required for street lights. The next step is to mix the new nanoparticles in strontium aluminium with the luciferase nanoparticles, which lead to a lighter and more durable glow.
“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.
The findings of the study were reported in the journal Science Advances.