Scientists say that your next nightlight could be a plant.

     Plant nano-biologists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a process that can cause plants to emit a glow. It’s all part of a move toward green energy. Literally.

     The scientists have managed to get a new generation of plants to glow ten times brighter than the previous generation, (I didn’t know there was a previous generation!). They have achieved a photoemission rate of up to 4.8 × 1013 photons per second (for context, a 100-watt light bulb emits about 3.27 x 1020 photons per second).

     Using plant varieties such as watercress, basil, tobacco, and the Thailand elephant ear, the team found that each could continuously emit light for about an hour. Doesn’t sound like much but it’s a great start!

     To do this, the scientists infused five “diverse plant species” with specialized strontium aluminate nanoparticles that can work like an electrical capacitor. Capacitors are useful because they can store energy for later use, rather like a battery. In this case, the capacitor is made of a material called a phosphor. These materials can absorb either visible or ultraviolet light and then slowly release it as a phosphorescent glow.

     The nanoparticles are coated with silica, so they don’t harm the plant. The scientists then infuse them through tiny pores in the leaves, called stomata. Once inside the plant’s cell structure, the particles form a layer that becomes a photoelectric film, which absorbs photons. I darkness this stored energy produces light.

     This new generation of glowing plants uses a material called phosphor. The original 2017 plant studies used a combination of the bioluminescent particles luciferin and luciferase, which also help to power the light that fireflies produce. However, these particles were much dimmer.  

     The use of living plants to produce light creates an opportunity to replace devices that are currently made from plastic and circuit boards. Plastics and circuit boards create non-degradable waste, whereas plants do not.

     The research work establishes methods of transform living plants into fully renewable light sources.

     There is obviously a long way to go in this development process, but the potential is encouraging and fascinating.

     Think about it, if science can produce trees that act as street lights, as well as absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it would be a major advance towards the goal of reducing energy consumption and reducing.

     Pie-in-the-sky, maybe, but once an idea has been defined, the scientists of the world have proved remarkably efficient turning an idea into a practical product. Let’s hope they succeed with this one.

     How amazing would it be to have a bedside light that is a plant? It would have aesthetic appeal, as well as reducing your electric bill.

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