The First Man-Made Biological Leaf Turns Light and Water Into Oxygen
In order for humans to live in outer space, they must have a steady supply of oxygen they can depend on. Now, instead of relying on plants that may not survive, they can use an artificial biological leaf designed by a London graduate student.
Julian Melchiorri, a graduate student in innovation design engineering at the UK’s Royal College of Art, created the synthetic leaf, which he called the ‘Silk Leaf Project’. The design was for an RCA course offered in collaboration with Tufts University’s silk lab in Massachusetts.
Like the leaf from a real plant, the synthetic leaf uses photosynthesis to produce oxygen, by absorbing light, water and carbon dioxide. “The artificial leaves feature chloroplasts extracted from actual plant cells that are suspended in a material made from silk protein. So when given access to light and water they still produce oxygen, but they’re better suited to surviving off our planet,”
The problem with using natural foliage on our interstellar explorations is that plants may not flourish in zero gravity as much as we’d need them to. But since they’re a better way to produce oxygen than simply trying to carry countless tanks full of O2, Melchiorri wanted to engineer a better alternative that would easy survive the rigors of space travel.
What he ended up creating still functions exactly like the leaves on a plant do, but in improved packaging, in a manner of speaking. The artificial leaves feature chloroplasts extracted from actual plant cells that are suspended in a material made from silk protein. So when given access to light and water they still produce oxygen, but they’re better suited to surviving off our planet.
But that’s not to say the leaves won’t be just as useful here on Earth. They can be employed as natural air filters in the ventilation systems of large buildings, producing extra oxygen that can be pumped indoors. Or if you’re camping, they could be the most advanced emergency toilet paper you’ll ever use.
Fabio Evangelista is a Brazilian writer.
Crossed Paths is the first book of the Myra-Hati trilogy, an epic adventure in a post-apocalyptic world, for the lovers of sci-fi / fantasy genre. This is the author’s first work published in America.